Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, in his trademark rhetoric, responded to concerns expressed by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Senator David Nakhid about the deaths of Andrew ‘Solo’ Morris and Joel Belcon while in police custody with personal attacks today, via a Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) release.
Griffith suggested that Persad-Bissessar and Nakhid were hypocrites and monsters but did not directly respond to the issues raised by the politicians—other than to point out that an investigation is underway.
“We have become quite familiar with the abuse, attacks, and disdain demonstrated toward the men and women of the TTPS,” stated Griffith, “and being the leader of the organisation, I am fully aware the proverbial guns will be trained at me. I am and have always been prepared for this.
“Whilst I expect these sustained criticisms, what I will not do is to accept condemnation of the men and women of the TTPS without due process.”
On Sunday, Nakhid, a former Trinidad and Tobago international football captain, called on Griffith to resign for the TTPS release, on 3 February, which stated that Morris fell off a chair, in the lead up to his death in police custody.
An autopsy later revealed that Morris’ injuries suggested he was beaten to death.
“You came out and said the guy fall from a chair,” said Nakhid. “[…] If that’s not the case, then you have to resign. And if you know nothing about it, then you still have to resign; because these are your officers.
“You don’t claim to be the be all and end all of everything?”
Griffith quickly invited the United National Congress (UNC) to distance itself from Nakhid’s critique of the police, as the Opposition party did in the past. However, on Monday, Persad-Bissessar echoed some of her senator’s concerns.
“You are fighting a monster, but do not become that monster you are trying to fight,” stated Persad-Bissessar. “We stand—I make it very clear—on the side of justice, on the side of the rule of law. We stand on behalf of all law-abiding citizens and every citizen is entitled to due process.
“[…] The day the rule of law breaks down in this land, we will have a police state. We will have a dictatorship.”
Griffith fired back today, via the TTPS Facebook page.
“What is completely hypocritical is that many of these same persons calling for ‘due process’—including the likes of Senator Nakhid and now the leader of the opposition—are the very same ones acting as judge and jury against the TTPS without the said due process,” stated Griffith. “I have stated that an investigation will be undertaken into the matters raised. What I have noted, is neither Senator Nakhid nor the opposition leader even once has sought any information on the wellbeing of any of the TTPS officers involved in the matter.
“I have stated openly that a few were injured, however, it appears that the lives of our officers matter less to the opposition leader and her senators. This is not surprising to me when you consider their maintained position on the Bail Amendment Bill and Anti-Gang Legislation, amongst other legislative tools that they have purposively acted against.”
Griffith, a former minister of national security under the UNC-led People’s Partnership government headed by Persad-Bissessar, further accused his former prime minister of trying ‘to ride the small tide of sentiment against the TTPS’.
“It is increasingly disquieting, that the opposition leader and her appointed senator, seek to ride the small tide of sentiment against the TTPS, rather than use the opportunity to reinforce caution and calm to await an independent probe,” stated Griffith, “rather than cast aspersions and seek to ascribe members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service as ‘monsters’.
“As the police commissioner if we were to talk about monsters, I would refer to those who say it is now legal and appropriate to be a gang member—whereby criminal leaders can now easily recruit young men to be in gang, that can lead to their death. That is a monster.
“I see a monster as those who utilise their votes in Parliament to say that it is appropriate that persons held with assault rifles, with specific intent to kill, be granted easy access to bail, whereby they return to the streets to target witnesses or commit further acts of violence to law-abiding citizens. Those are monsters.
“I see a monster being those who negotiate with criminal elements and grant them massive state contracts, whereby they use this profit to purchase more weapons, drugs and hire more young men to be gang members that escalate violence in this country, to the point that a senior counsel was also killed. Those are monsters.”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has not directly addressed the deaths of Morris and Belcon. Yesterday, Minister of National Security Stuart Young urged persons with recordings of the police beatings to take them to ‘the relevant authorities’.
On Sunday, Trinidad Express investigative journalist Denyse Renne wrote at length about the alleged fatal beating inflected by lawmen on Morris.
Young said the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) is investigating the deaths along with the TTPS Professional Standards Bureau and homicide officers from the relevant police districts. There will be, the minister said, no foreign investigation into the deaths.
Young noted too that the Special Operations Response Team (SORT), the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF), and the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) are due to receive body cameras. Griffith, he said, is responsible for their distribution.
Nakhid, on Sunday, noted the police questioning of music producer Alan Brizan for the latter’s criticism of Griffith on Facebook and said Trinidad and Tobago was in danger of becoming a police state—as supposedly was his homeland of Lebanon in the 1990s.
The senator referred to the murders of our young women and men on the streets as a ‘danger to our society’. However, he said the ‘killing’ of men in police custody is a ‘danger to our democracy’.
Griffith suggested that it was Nakhid did not want the country to be safe. And he referenced the former football star’s alleged work as a scout for the Bahrain National Senior Team, before they met the Soca Warriors in a two-legged Fifa Play Off in November 2005. Trinidad and Tobago won 2-1 on aggregate.
“The commissioner of police is fully aware that there are some who would be the mouthpiece and fight for the rights of criminals over the rights of law-abiding citizens,” stated the TTPS release, “and those who do not want change, who at times are the mouthpieces for the criminal elements, who do not want to see this as a safe society because of their own agendas. But this would not deter him from doing what is right and lawful to ensure the safety of citizens in this nation.
“The CoP would advise Senator Nakhid that unlike some who chose Bahrain over Trinidad and Tobago in our World Cup 2006 campaign, CoP Griffith’s only focus and singular support will always be for Trinidad and Tobago.”
Editor’s Note: The UNC responded to point out that, despite the claim from Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, the Bail (Amendment) Bill was passed in 2019 with Opposition support, and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill was passed last week with Opposition support.