The Law Association of T&T is calling on Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to temporarily suspend the police officers who were involved in the deaths of three men from Morvant last weekend.
Saying it has been monitoring the incident and the widespread protests over police brutality which followed, the association, headed by Douglas Mendes SC, suggested this in a press release on Sunday.
While it noted that an investigation into the incident had been started by the T&T Police Service (TTPS), it said: “In the meantime, the Commissioner is urged to take immediate steps to identify those officers who were involved in the shootings and, without making any determination as to guilt, send them on administrative leave so that investigations may proceed without hindrance.”
Also referring to an independent investigation by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), the association added: “In this regard, we urge those in authority to ensure that the Authority is given the necessary resources to conduct such investigation and to make its recommendations as soon as possible.”
The association also said it was concerned that there has been an increase in police shootings compared to comparable periods. It said the investigations and a determination if criminal charges are warranted in the circumstances should be done transparently to help with public trust and confidence in the process. It also called on Griffith to review the TTPS’s current policies on the interactions with its officers and the public, especially those considered to be suspects in criminal activities.
“Emphasis should be placed on techniques which would de-escalate encounters and reduce tension in order to eliminate the occasions on which police officers feel compelled to resort to the use of firearms,” the LATT said.
It was careful to note it was not against officers using firearms if they face persons who engage them with firearms.
“As we have said on a previous occasion, the police are entitled in law to defend themselves when fired upon but recent events appear to put the need for containment training into sharp relief,” it said.
But in a response issued shortly after the association’s, Griffith described its suggestion to suspend the officers as illogical.
“So if one lawyer in a law firm commits a serious breach in a case, then all, in that case, should be disciplined? There were 12-odd officers on a scene, three for the most may have fired their weapons, so the recommendation is to suspend all,” Griffith asked, as he noted suspension of 50 officers in a convoy may cripple security in an area.
Griffith also took issue with concerns over the rise in police-involved shootings, as he said LATT was silent when officers have been shot at once every four days for the past five years.
“But this lack of concern is obvious when most held for shooting at our police officers are then represented by some of these same lawyers,” Griffith said.
He then suggested how some LATT members could assist in reducing the crime statistics.
“They want a reduction in police shootings? Then tell their clients to stop being in possession of illegal firearms,” Griffith said.
He also claimed the association should be renamed as “Lawyers’ Association,” as it only includes lawyers and not stakeholders in the justice system, including the police, judges, magistrates and court administrators.
Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Noel Diamond and Israel Clinton were shot dead by police at Second Caledonia, Morvant, last Saturday. The officers were allegedly searching the area for suspects in the murder of colleague PC Allen Moseley, who was shot dead near his home the previous day.
CCTV footage of the shooting was shared on social media and sparked massive public outcry, which culminated in widespread fiery protests across areas in T&T last week. During the protest, 30-year-old pregnant mother Ornella Greaves who shot dead while protesting along the Beetham Highway.
Late last week, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley weighed in on the issue and called for calm as the respective investigations take their course. Rowley also announced the appointment of a community recovery programme committee mandated to study systemic issues in high-risk communities and propose solutions.
The committee is headed by psychologist Anthony Watkins and includes radio personality Hans Des Vignes, community activist and former national football coach Jamaal Shabazz, life coach Curtis Toussaint, Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, social entrepreneur Akosua Edwards and Laventille community activist Nicola Harvey.