Neighbours and friends of 25-year-old Akel “Christmas” James are disputing the police’s claims over the circumstances surrounding his death.
While police claimed James was killed in a shootout at his home early yesterday morning, residents alleged he was unarmed at the time. When a news team from the T&T Guardian visited the community yesterday, three people living within walking distance of James’ home claimed he was was executed by police.
“They just knock on the door and when he answer they start to shoot,” one man claimed.
“There was a next man in the house. As soon as he hear the gunshots he run. They chase after him but they didn’t find him,” another said.
James’ friends did not deny he had a criminal record, but claimed he was being falsely accused of being an assassin for a gang.
“He was a snatcher not a shooter. We not hiding the fact that he was not a saint. He had his trouble,” one man said.
Most residents interviewed by the T&T Guardian claimed James was attempting to change his life since he was released from prison after serving two years.
“The man not in anything since he come out. He take his daughter from her mother and he was just quiet,” another said.
They also pointed out that residents from communities in east Port-of-Spain, who would not normally cooperate, banded together yesterday to protest his death.
“Everybody know Christmas not in anything. You see how much people was involved today. That would not have happen if he had a gun and was shooting at police,” a resident said.
According to a release from the T&T Police Service’s Public Affairs Unit issued yesterday, James was killed as officers from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) raided his home at Basilon Street, East Dry River, around 3.30 am.
Officers were about to execute a search warrant for firearms and ammunition, when they claimed they were met with gunshots.
They allegedly returned fire, hitting James several times. He was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Police claimed they found a Glock pistol and seven rounds of ammunition on the scene.
The release also stated James was facing 19 charges for a range of offences, including firearm and ammunition possession, cocaine possession and robbery with violence. He also had two previous convictions from 2013 and 2015 for larceny and common assault.
ASP Roger Gould, from the Professional Standards Bureau, has been assigned to investigate James’ death.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has also launched an independent investigation. While the PCA usually waits until a victim’s relatives report an incident before launching an independent investigation, it exercised its discretion to do so on its own initiative in James’ case.
“In this regard, the PCA is asking members of the public that were witnesses to or persons with information on or regarding the incident to kindly contact the PCA,” a release said.