Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith tried to turn the table on persons critical of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s handling of a pool party in Bayside Towers, by suggesting that they were the ones with a ‘hang-up’ on race and class—and not his lawmen.
On Sunday, a Bayside resident held a party at the communal pool, which involved guests from within and outside of the gated community. After complaints by residents and pleadings by security guards, it took two visits from the police before the partygoers finally dispersed.
Nobody was charged, although the public health ordinance carries a TT$1,000 fine for failure to wear masks—even if it is in your own vehicle alongside a single family member.
To date, the TTPS has charged 179 persons for failure to wear masks. So, a journalist asked at today’s press conference, did the police choose not to hold someone accountable at Bayside Towers because it is an affluent neighbourhood?
Griffith pointed to raids he spearheaded in Regents Garden, Valsayn Park and Goodwood Park as proof that he was above any suggestion of bias. If anything, he noted, it is the critics who are biased.
“Many times, people look at race, they look at colour, they look at political party cards; we do not look at it in that manner,” said Griffith. “[…] But you know what is interesting is they are saying these individuals should have all been arrested because they were held. There was a certain Gary Griffith, there were 27 people that I held in Sea Lots and I warned them, and all of them were let go and that was not a problem then.
“Just about a month and a half ago, 17 persons were swimming at the bay next to Bayside from Sea Lots, from Carenage, from St James and that was not an issue [when they were released without charge].
“Now the same thing [that took] place in Sea Lots next to Bayside was done here but that becomes an issue. Sometimes we need to stop looking at race and look at logic, look at common sense.”
Although the persons referenced by Griffith were also not charged, they were not treated the same. The Cocorite bathers, for example, were arrested.
‘Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, said he received information from the public and directed officers to the area. Ten persons were caught bathing in the sea. They were immediately arrested and taken to the Four Roads Police Station where they are being processed.’
In the case of the Sea Lots bathers, police officers filmed the youngsters apologising to Griffith for their indiscretion.
One reporter attempted to make that point to the commissioner.
“Some of [the Sea Lots bathers] were recorded and uploaded to social media by the TTPS, whereas in this case that did not happen,” said the reporter. “[…] Are people exposed to different forms of scrutiny—based on what?”
Griffith dismissed the inference outright.
“So the scrutiny is based on whether the police record it or not; […] not the fact that the individuals there were released in the same manner that individuals here were warned?” said Griffith. “So the Police Service is going to be judged based on if they record it or not? Really?
“I can’t judge or speak based on ignorant people. If you are going to judge the Police Service based on who did a recording or did not do a recording… I can’t defend or speak based on stupidity.”
Griffith and head of TTPS Legal Unit Christian Chandler did note that, unlike the Sea Lots and Cocorite bathers, the Bayside partiers were not in a public space. Although, they admitted, it was not a private space either—but a ‘common area’.
It was a different explanation to what was offered by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, last month, when he suggested that persons could be charged for putting out the garbage without wearing masks.
“A public space is everything that is not private,” said Al-Rawi, at a press conference on 31 August. “Quite simply once it is in the public space—you don’t own it, your neighbour doesn’t own it; it is therefore a public space. And quite simply, if you are going to take your garbage outside, put on your mask… It is commonsensical.”
However, Griffith described it as a ‘very technical situation’.
“Suppose 20 people at a private community all decide to go to the pool at the same time, is the police suppose to clear the first five that arrived and arrest the other 15?” asked Griffith. “[…] I have been told the individual [throwing the Bayside party] was very arrogant and said this is private property and you cannot tell us what to do. However many of the individuals—not speaking English as well—they were not members of that community, so they were invited.
“If you decide to invite 20 people and go by the pool, how are police to deal with that situation because of how the law is at this time?”
Newsday journalist Jansen La Vende asked whether, based on the interpretation presented by Griffith and Chandler, persons were free to have private ‘Zess’ parties.
“Let us not go down that road, […] this is where common sense kicks in,” said Griffith. “[…] Hold strain you will get to have your Zess party soon enough.”
So if someone held a ‘Zess’ party without a cover charge, La Vende asked, could they expect the same patience from the TTPS as was offered to the Bayside crew?
“If you have a Zess party in your house with seven persons and it is a private party, I’m not going to tell the police any time more than seven persons in a house we will raid the house to save lives,” said Griffith. “It is going to be based on the scenario, based on the intelligence we have, based on the size of the premises… Let us not try to be technical and nitpick. Just don’t do it.”
Section 133 of the public health ordinance states: ‘For the purposes of this part of this ordinance, any person authorised to act under the provisions […] may at any time, with or without assistance, (a) enter on lands and buildings and inspect and examine the same and all things thereon or therein’.
Chandler tried to explain the circumstances under which the police would use this clause to intervene at a private party.
“Under the public health ordinance, I referred to a particular section that allows police to go into a place to save lives and that sort of thing,” said Chandler. “[…] While you may have a private event and you may have people over, if it is you’re overdoing it and you have ridiculous amounts of people, and someone calls the police and makes a report and [the police] come there: don’t talk about they don’t have a warrant.
“At that point in time, you are breaching the regulations and under the public health regulations they wouldn’t need any warrant to come to your house… Let’s not have that sort of conversation.”
So what would be ‘ridiculous amounts’ of guests and ‘overdoing it’?
“They were warned several times and they still continued [the pool party],” noted another journalist. “There was footage of them going into the night partying… They seemed to have ignored police officers’ warning.
“Wasn’t it at that point—in the interest of saving lives—shouldn’t someone have suffered the consequences?”
Griffith didn’t think so.
“Not necessarily,” said Griffith, “I don’t have the details of what happened. We do not know if it is they dispersed, if they remained in small pockets, if the landlord gave clearance, if it is the persons who were residents remained there [and the others left].
“[…] I am thoroughly investigating this matter, so it is not over as yet.”
Griffith suggested one way in which the police could offer retribution to the partiers, though. As he noted earlier, officers did hear a language other than English being spoken.
“If people feel they can find a way to beat the system, I will find a way to beat them from beating the system,” said the police commissioner. “What we heard is that some of these individuals were not residents of Trinidad and Tobago, so we can check whether they have documentation to be here. And even if they do, persons can can be removed from this country if you are deemed to be (a) a threat to national security or (b) a liability to the public purse.
“So if persons feel that I can do what I want, whenever I want; we can find avenues to make life very difficult for persons within the law.”
Griffith did not explain why the deportation of Venezuelan refugees—whose reason for being at the Bayside Towers event is uncertain—might be considered a suitable response to an arrogant, reckless Bayside resident’s failure to show due consideration to Covid-19 regulation.
Or why the unnamed resident would care.
The police commissioner promised to complete an investigation into the police’s handling of the party ‘very soon’.
This evening, the Ministry of Health confirmed an additional 95 positive cases for the novel coronavirus, which took Trinidad and Tobago’s total number of positives since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic to 2,588. Forty-four of the positives were police recruits already housed in quarantine.
The total number of persons infected from the Police Training Academy now stands at 121, which is over 60 per cent of their recruits.
Trinidad and Tobago vs Covid-19 (in numbers)
Local infections of Covid-19 in first wave (27 March to 26 April)
- 50 cases in 31 days with 8 deaths.
Local infections of Covid-19 in second wave (20 July to 17 August)
- 436 cases in 29 days with 4 deaths.
Local infections of Covid-19 since gov’t roll-backs (18 August to 9 September)
- 1,896 cases in 22 days with 27 deaths.