“[…] I consider your correspondence a threat and as such since you refuse to be guided and assisted and advised, I am to advise you that I will report this matter to the Minister and the Commission for their urgent attention.
“You are now a person out of control and cannot be allowed to continue this way… You flatly refuse to be guided to an acceptable pattern of behaviour…”
The following correspondence appears to be a letter from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to the Police Service Commission on 16 September 2020, which signalled a loss of confidence in then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith:
Chairman and Members,
Police Service Commission
Re: Mr Gary Griffith, Commissioner of Police—Unacceptable behaviour
It is after considered deliberation that I have decided to write you on the following matters that have given me cause of serious concern with respect to the suitability of Mr Gary Griffith continuing to hold the office of commissioner of police.
I respectfully advise of the following.
On Saturday 12th September 2020, in treating with citizens, in general, I made the following statement at a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s:
“I said to my colleague (Minister of National Security Stuart Young) where Trinidad and Tobago is we expect that there would be firm and sustained law enforcement for those who believe that the only thing they will accept and respond to is being restrained by a police officer. And as I say that, let me join this conversation now.
“In Trinidad and Tobago, we expect that the law will be applied to every person regardless of race, colour, creed, class or social standing. Because those who believe that they are beyond the reach of this virus, you could say so for yourself and that may suit you, in comforting your irresponsible conduct.
“But in so doing you pose a threat to the rest of our national community […] to the little children who are helpless […] to the persons with underlying medical conditions […] to those elder citizens who are depending entirely on not being exposed in the simplest way.
“They request—through me, through the minister of national security, through the Police Service—that we ensure that there is an improvement in the conduct of our nationals, where the law applies across the board, especially to those whose priority is partying. Persons who are partying and spreading the virus must feel the full brunt of the law.
“It is not for me to tell the Commissioner of Police who to arrest and who not to arrest and how to apply the law. But as prime minister, I could tell the Commissioner of Police that the law must be applied to protect us in Trinidad and Tobago from those that are not prepared to listen and are not prepared to fight the fight that we want to fight to bring this virus under control.
“We can do no more, but we will do the best with what we have.”
It appears that this discourse of mine was interpreted by Mr Griffith as being offensive to him and thereafter made his own interpretation, then embarked on a course of behaviour that is most unbecoming of a commissioner of police of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
That evening, Mr Griffith sent me a number of messages taking issue with what I had said. The content of these messages were disrespectful to the Office of the Prime Minister and betrayed a lack of balance expected from an officer in his position.
The following day, on Sunday 13 September 2020, Mr Griffith continued messaging me in a challenging, aggressive and somewhat disrespectful manner.
He went further to issue a public statement taking issue with what I had stated at the press conference quoted above. Mr Griffith also made very inappropriate comments and statements to the public via a live radio interview on i95.5 FM. Mr Griffith used insulting and disrespectful language with reference to me, suggesting that, amongst other things, that I was racist and a hypocrite.
It was also reported that, on Sunday, Mr Griffith warned the members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) to ignore advice from the chairman of the National Security Council that the TTPS has authority to arrest people on their private property for breaches of the Covid-19 regulations.
He made disparaging and dangerous comments that I was encouraging police officers to violate the constitutional rights of citizens by breaking the law to ease political pressure on me and my administration. He went further, publicly, to tell the members of the TTPS that was I was trying to ‘throw the police under the bus’.
As a result of these disturbing developments I requested a meeting for Monday 14 September 2020 at 10am with Commissioner Griffith and Acting Deputy Commissioners of Police, [Jayson] Forde and [McDonald] Jacobs, along with the Attorney General and the Minister of National Security.
I was disturbed by the public behaviour of Mr Griffith and found it unacceptable and intolerable, as he was directly and publicly disrespecting the Office of the Prime Minister and, by extension, the Chairman of the National Security Council.
On Sunday evening, after hearing his last interview on a radio station, I was sufficiently concerned about his irrational behaviour that, as chairman of the National Security Council, I immediately called for a meeting with the Commissioner and two of his most senior officers at 9am on Monday 14th September.
Prior to this meeting (which took place at 10am) on Monday, Mr Griffith was interviewed on TV6 and Radio 102 FM where he repeated his tirade of troubling accusations against the Office of the Prime Minister, demanding retractions of the Prime Minister’s policy statement.
At the meeting on Monday, I took the opportunity to read what I had said at the press conference on Saturday (12 September), which is quoted above, and to explain the different roles of the executive and the TTPS and, in particular, that, as prime minister, I was in charge of policy.
I recorded that in all of of my 40 years of public service, I had never known a commissioner of police to publicly engage a prime minister and certainly not in the manner that Mr Griffith had done in the previous days.
I told Mr Griffith that he had publicly accused me of being a hypocrite, of encouraging the TTPS to breach the Constitution, of being a racist, and of being incompetent as I did not seek advice. I advised that I was not engaging in any debate on public and private property but that I spoke about enforcing the law as it exists. I had to point out that a law that does not exist cannot be ‘enforced’.
I also emphasised that I do not give instructions to the TTPS. I suggested to Mr Griffith that it would be advisable for him to take a step back and do some reflecting and we would move forward and consider the unfortunate occurrence to be ‘water under the bridge’.
At the meeting on Monday 14th September, after expressing my concerns to him in the presence of others, I informed Mr Griffith that I would be writing to the to the Police Service Commission to record what had taken place over the weekend, as I was not prepared to tolerate the disrespect to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Later that day, Mr Griffith took umbrage with a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister that said that ‘Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and Acting Deputy Commissioners of Police Forde and Jacob (sic) attended a meeting this morning, summoned by Prime Minister Dr the Hon Keith Rowley’.
The word ‘summoned’ appears to have upset Mr Griffith and he issued a press release to that effect.
On Tuesday 15 September 2020, Mr Griffith continued with behaviour that is worrisome and sent me messages which were disrespectful and threatening, as he took offence to a story carried in the Trinidad Express newspaper.
He also stated on CNC3 in an interview that he could not be summoned by a prime minister/ chairman of the National Security Council and carried on publicly in a manner unbecoming of a commissioner of police. Even after the public barrage, he continued in his worrisome communication to me.
‘Gary Griffith: Anyone who has to use a reporter to push an agenda to discredit me via using himself as a ‘government source’ shows weakness and fear to confront the person he is trying to undermine and intimidate. I would be writing to the PSC also about political interference of the police in the performance of our duties also. Let the reporting begin.
Dr Keith Rowley: I am sure the Commission would want to know all about any such matter but as I said to you yesterday you need to do a bit of reflecting and stop this interpreting and persecution complex that seems to be surrounding you. Maybe you should just stop and let good sense prevail.
Gary Griffith: Agreed Sir. But likewise. Sending messages to (name given) to discredit a police commissioner helps no one. Let us move on.
Dr Keith Rowley: I consider your correspondence a threat and as such since you refuse to be guided and assisted and advised, I am to advise you that I will report this matter to the Minister and the Commission for their urgent attention.
You are now a person out of control and cannot be allowed to continue this way. I have given you the best of my advice and guidance but you flatly refuse to be guided to an acceptable pattern of behaviour.
Gary Griffith: Sir. We spoke. Look at the article today on express. How does this help. You continue to attack and undermine me. I am trying to focus on my job. But you seem to want to continue this cold war. If you insist, then I obviously would not play dead. You keep giving worthy advice whilst still attacking me and threatening me.
If this is untenable, you are uncomfortable and you cannot work with me, I can submit my resignation to PSC this afternoon, as I can move on.’
It is with great disappointment that I am forced to record my dissatisfaction with the conduct and behaviour of Mr Griffith that I have described above.
Additionally, I must record that Mr Griffith has displayed disturbing behaviour on previous occasions when it appears that he disagrees with others, including members of the public who may disagree with him or comment unfavourably on anything to do with him.
He has also disrespected Minister of National Security Stuart Young on occasions. I also received a complaint from the Director of Strategic Services Agency about Mr Griffith’s accusations against him (I provide a copy for your perusal and records), and the manner in which Mr Griffith conducted himself on that occasion was of serious concern and I tasked the Minister of National Security to investigate the allegations and resolve the matter between these two high ‘sensitive office’ holders in the national security arena.
On many of these occasions, as prime minister and as chairman of the National Security Council, I have on more than one occasion to quietly caution the Commissioner about the way he responds to the public and the need to acknowledge the portfolio and responsibility of the line Minister.
None of this seems to influence any improvement in his approach and his current mission to publicly engage the Prime Minister, demanding a remedy of retraction of a clear and simple statement of long-standing policy, is but the latest in a pattern of behaviour which is the now the subject of national disquiet.
These matters are cause of concern to me and indicate a level of instability and unsuitability for a person holding the office of commissioner of police. A dangerous and unacceptable precedent has been set and cannot be nurture nor tolerated.
I take no pleasure in being forced to pen this missive to you. In fact, it is with a sense of great disappointment and regret that I have brought the Commission into this but only to advise you that I have lost confidence in the Commissioner and do not know what to expect fo him going forward.
The National Security Council is one of the most sensitive institutional arrangements of state in the country and cannot be expected to be populated by any officer who is irrational, erratic, disrespectful, accusatory and unreliable.
Editor’s Note: Wired868 requested comment from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Gary Griffith on the contents of this letter. By the time of initial publication, neither had responded.