Relatives of two teenagers, who were among the five friends killed by police in a shooting in Laventille on Thursday night, are maintaining that they were executed by police.
While Police Commissioner Gary Griffith maintained yesterday that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) officers were acting in self-defence, as the men shot at them first, the teenagers’ grieving relatives repeatedly said they and their friends were playing a game of cards and unarmed when they were brutally cut down by police.
Speaking on CNC3’s Morning Brew programme early yesterday, Griffith said the incident was being investigated by the head of the Homicide Bureau, but he still sought to give a brief account of what allegedly transpired.
According to Griffith, around 9.30 pm the officers were on a “basic” mobile patrol along Upper Wharton Street, Trou Macaque, Laventille, when they were “greeted by gunfire.”
“They called for backup through the operational command centre and there was an exchange of gunfire,” Griffith said.
He said the five suspects were wounded and one of the officers was shot in his chest but the bullet did not pierce his bullet-proof vest.
However, in a subsequent press release, the TTPS said: “The Commissioner is now questioning what kind of “card game” would result in an officer being shot at and being possibly killed, from a bullet which penetrated his jacket and grazed the upper left side of the chest.”
The victims were taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.
They were identified as Servol student Kadeem Phillip-Williams, 17, Shakeem Francois, 15, Nicholas Barker, Mechack “Nitro” Douglas, 24 and Seandell “Crash” St Clair.
Douglas and St Clair were reportedly well known to police, who claimed they were wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of Darren “Cowman” King, who was killed on April 18.
But in an interview with the T&T Guardian, Phillip-Williams’ other brother, Kurt, claimed his brother, Francois and Barker were collateral damage, as the police appeared to have come directly for Douglas and St Clair.
“I don’t know about the others but them teenagers was not in anything. They was just playing cards and smoking a little weed. I not lying for anybody,” Phillip-Williams’ brother Curty said.
While he and other relatives were not there at the time, they said they were told what transpired by some of the men’s friends, who were able to run away and hide in some nearby bushes just as the officers arrived.
“They crawl down there and was playing dead. They hear and see everything they (the police) say and do,” he said.
He claimed all five men surrendered to police before the shooting began.
“They tell Mechack that he like to shoot people in they head and then they do just that. He had his hands up in the air,” he said.
“How could you open fire on men after they put their hands up in the air?” another asked.
Phillip-Williams’ relatives attempted to recreate the scene as they sat, stood and crawled next to pools of congealed blood on a sofa on which the men were sitting.
They also pointed to bullet holes near the windows of the home of Phillip-Williams’ 90-year-old grandmother.
“They kill the boys and could have hit the woman there. It was a miracle nothing happen to her,” one woman said.
Phillip-Williams’ mother had to be repeatedly consoled by relatives as she screamed and wailed over her son’s death.
“Every morning he does wake up early to go to school in Claxton Bay. He loved cars, he wanted to be a mechanic,” she said.
She repeatedly said her son was a diligent student and was not involved in gang activity.
“The only crime he ever commit was smoking a little weed. I talk to him about it but he said it does help with his epileptic fits.
“He have it since he was four and the tablets don’t work,” she said.
Francois’ mother and relatives said he was a talented footballer who was well loved at the Morvant/Laventille Secondary School. They claimed that after the shooting the officers planted guns on two of the men.
“They see them putting guns in the men hand before they dragged them out like dogs,” one said.
Phillip-Williams’ sister and mother also claimed police attempted to conceal evidence shortly after the men arrived at the hospital.
“When we reached to identify him. They was washing out the last one. Can you believe that? I have never heard of that,” his mother said.
Contacted yesterday on whether the TTPS would be issuing an official statement on the incident, TTPS corporate communication manager Kirk-Jean Baptiste said it was under investigation and the TTPS would be sticking to Griffith’s earlier statements.
PCA starts own probe
In a press release issued yesterday, the Police Complaints Authority meanwhile said it had initiated an investigation into the killings.
The PCA’s civilian investigators will investigate and provide a report to it. The authority will then consider the report and decide whether it should recommend prosecution or disciplinary charges.
The PCA called upon members of the public with information on the incident to contact it confidentially at 627-4383 or 627-4386 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autopsies are expected to be performed on the deceased at Forensic Science Centre in St James on Monday morning.