Police Commissioner Gary Griffith (left). Former Justice Minister and former High Court Judge, Herbert Volney (right).

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith has criticised former UNC minister and former High Court judge Herbert Volney for comments he posted on Facebook last night saying the commissioner could not “lawfully stop anyone from having a party at their home”.

Griffith responded to the post hours after co-ordinating an operation in which 16 people were arrested at a secret COVID-19 party at Alicia’s Guest House, St Ann’s, with a team of officers from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT).

Volney seemed to be responding to Griffith’s statement on Thursday that police would stop anyone who hosts COVID parties at their homes over the long Easter weekend, noting such events pose a threat because of their potential to spread the COVID-19 virus.

On Friday, however, Griffith advised “law-abiding citizens and responsible citizens to disregard the voices of those desperate for attention, and trying their best to make themselves relevant, but now giving incorrect and inappropriate advice.”

Making direct reference to Volney, Griffith said he expected better from a former judge.

“As a former minister of justice and former judge, this is the best advice that he wishes to give the public in such difficult times when lives are being lost? Telling them of their rights to do wrong?” Griffith asked.

He chided Volney for the “irresponsible and incorrect advice,” saying he was putting the lives of people and others at risk by making such statements.

Griffith said, “There are definitely certain laws that can be used during this period and the COP wishes to assure the public that he would use it. Do not have COVID-19 quarantine parties.”

Early on Good Friday morning, hours after Griffith had issued a stern warning about hosting COVID parties, he co-ordinated a raid at a secret COVID-19 party at Alicia’s Guest House.

Eight men and eight Venezuelan women who were scantily dressed were held by Griffith and his team around 12.30 am.

In a release about the raid on Friday, Griffith said, “If you did not hear, then you would feel. No more warnings. I have informants throughout the country and we would turn up when these people least expect it. We anticipated this, as there are similar fools in other countries doing the same.”

Griffith said similar quarantine parties had been held in New York and the United Kingdom – where a number of people died from the virus after attending these parties.

“We know of copycats so we expected promoters here would try to do the same thing. As I said at the media conference (on Thursday), this health crisis is a ticking time bomb and now is not the time to drop our guard or become complacent.”

Based on police intelligence, Griffith said 50 businessmen were planning to attend the party at Alicia’s Guest House scheduled for 1 am. But he said a marked police vehicle that drove past the location earlier might have had promoters skeptical. Griffith said the police had little choice but to move in earlier than planned on the establishment.

When the police team raided the guest house they found 16 persons around the pool,” displaying no form of social distancing, involving Spanish-speaking women conducting lewd dancing and breaching the regulations as it relates to more than five persons being assembled in the same area.”

The 16 arrested people, including two who had the key to the property, were taken to three different police stations to be questioned. Some were taken to West End Police Station, others to Four Roads Police station and the remainder to Besson Street Police Station in Port-of-Spain.

Griffith said the owner of the premises is also expected to be questioned in relation to the incident.

The suspects could be charged under the Public Health Ordinance – which was changed almost two weeks ago to reduce the number of persons in public spaces not deemed essential from ten to five. Those charged under the Public Health Ordinance can face a fine of $50,000 or six months imprisonment.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley last Monday at extended the Stay at Home order for all non-essential persons from April 15th to April 30th as the Government tightened its regulations to deal with the spread of the COVID-19 virus.