Close to two years after police officers fired 212 bullets at the home of a colleague in Sangre Grande, not a single person has been disciplined by the T&T Police Service, as yet, concerning the incident.
It’s a story that some may have forgotten, but for those seeking justice, it’s a matter that they won’t let rest.
According to officers familiar with the September 20, 2018 incident, there is an alleged attempt by some senior Eastern Division officers to cover up what took place that day.
Concerned officers, unwilling to give their identities for fear of repercussions, are convinced that the life of one of their colleagues, as it was nearly two years ago, is still at risk.
They claim that with the investigation nearing completion, their colleague’s home is being monitored by certain individuals, and there have even been attempts to blame him for crimes he had nothing to do with.
The officer has received threats of intimidation and harassment, they claim. Individuals have been taking pictures of his private vehicles and he alleged that a marked police vehicle was parked outside of his home and the occupants were staring at him. He made a report on Thursday to the TTPS’s Complaints Division about the officers parking outside of his home and intimidating him.
In the last two years, apart from the initial report to the Police Complaints Authority, he also made a report to the Sangre Grande Police Station in 2019 about being offered a $300,000 bribe to drop the matter.
Although unwilling to comment on the investigation itself, the officer involved, Constable Malcolm Grant (name changed to protect his identity), confirmed that he is scared for his life.
He said he was hoping that the matter will be resolved before something happens to him.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith assured Guardian Media that the incident will be fully investigated.
“There are some issues of concern there, and that is why it is before the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Professional Standards Bureau. I’m not saying that this is the case in this particular investigation, but we will not protect the actions of rogue officers,” Griffith said when asked about the investigation.
THE DATE OF THE INCIDENT: SEPTEMBER 20, 2018
Starting as early as 6 am, media reports of a police-involved shooting in North Eastern Settlement, Sangre Grande, began surfacing. From the beginning, it was evident that this was not the typical police-involved shooting.
There were reports of three officers shot, a warrant for firearms and ammunition, hundreds of bullets fired, and the main suspect, a special reserve police officer, who fled the scene armed and was on the loose.
It would not be until 12 hours later that the suspect would end up in police custody.
THE POLICE VERSION
(The names of the other people involved in the story were changed for their protection as well.)
As stated in a Sangre Grande station diary report taken at 11 am on September 2o, ten Eastern Division police officers went to the house of the accused, Police Constable Malcolm Grant, at 5:40 am.
One police sergeant and nine constables armed with seven pistols, one shotgun, and two MP5s went, according to the diary report, to execute a warrant for firearms and ammunition.
Before that, the officers were carrying out exercises in east Trinidad, as part of one of Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s first operations, Operation Strike Back.
Surrounding the northern side of the house, the officers called out the suspect by name–Constable Malcolm Grant.
All armed, with no verbal response, and with noises coming from inside, three officers approached a window.
Entering through the window, a man of dark complexion, wearing dark-coloured pants, began shooting at them, a report from one of the officers stated. Falling to the ground, Police Constable Cristopher said, according to the diary report, “I get shot, take cover.”
“Police Constable Ian and Police Constable Sam became fearful for their lives and the life of Police Constable Cristopher and they took cover, returning fire in the direction of the said man.
“PC Ian and PC Sam continued firing, whilst assisting PC Cristopher, and they all exited through the open window towards safety,” the report said.
They made it out of the house alive.
With backup arriving at the scene, in the presence of at least three senior officers, the report claimed that the police, via a loud-speaker, called for the suspect to surrender.
The report claimed that instead of surrendering, however, the suspect opened fire, sending officers scrambling for safety.
“The said man jumped into what appeared to be a drain making good his escape,” the report said.
Following failed attempts to locate him, officers claimed to have later found a white bag containing 9 mm and 5.56 ammunition in the property’s backyard.
The three officers who entered the house were all shot during the incident and taken to the Sangre Grande General Hospital for treatment.
Two were discharged with minor injuries on the same day, while the other, PC Cristopher, was taken to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for further treatment. Losing a finger and 30 per cent mobility in his hand, he was placed on injury leave. To this day, he remains on leave.
Carrying out further searches in the immediate area, officers stated, on record, that several residents were interviewed, but all declined to give statements. Later on, crime scene investigation personnel arrived and processed the scene
In total, according to the diary report, 212 bullets were fired by the officers.
THE SUSPECT’S VERSION
(The following is based on official documents made available to Guardian Media related to the events that transpired on September 20, 2018. They were provided by police sources.)
According to an official statement made by Officer Grant, that day he was awoken by a phone call, at around 5:50, from his father.
In a frantic tone, his father, whose house is located opposite of his, at North Eastern Settlement, Sangre Grande, called with worrying news.
“Police are shooting up your house. Where are you?” he asked, according to the statement.
Grant responded, “Arima.”
Scrambling to get ready and find transportation to get home, Grant received another call from his father nine minutes later. The second call was even more distressing than the first.
“Police officers at the scene told me that they were looking for you because you would have shot some officers before making good your escape in an awaiting vehicle,” his father is quoted as saying in a report.
In a state of shock, and without a vehicle, Grant walked to the nearest police station–the Arima Police Station. He arrived there about 20 minutes later.
Reporting to a police constable, his arrival at the station was booked at 6.40 am.
At 6:55 am, he made a note in the station diary about his location, as well as the information he had received from his father.
Twenty minutes later, he received a call from an Assistant Commissioner of Police asking him where he was. Grant informed the ACP that he had spent the night in Arima with a female friend.
If there were doubts, he said, there was a police CCTV camera located at the corner of the named streets, and its footage will support his claims. The ACP said he would check the footage and call back.
At 7:30 am, an officer at the station said he was instructed by the ACP to have Grant detained at the Arima CID office until further notice.
At around 10 am, Grant’s attorney arrived, spoke with him and left a short while after.
Following that, at around noon, an officer from the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit questioned him. No one else from the Eastern Division came to question him and after receiving no explanation, he was released at 5:30 pm.
‘Depressed and humiliated’ by what he had been accused of, the next day he returned to the scene of the shootout.
His blood-stained washing machine, fridge, wardrobe, front and back doors, walls, and even his electrical sockets had bullet holes.
In the bathroom, dumped in his toilet bowl, he found bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotions. In the cupboard, some of his clothes were torn up.
“A heavy feeling of sadness came over me and I walked outside at the sight of the malicious destruction to my home that was starting to have an adverse impact on me,” Grant said in an October 1, 2018 statement.
“After I composed myself, I went back in and I started to look around for any item of police kit and case files that I was working on, and I observed all of my uniforms were missing and also my bulletproof vest,” he added.
A SET UP?
Despite the allegations made against him by members of the Police Service’s Eastern Division, since that day, Corporal Grant has not been charged.
He is also still a police officer, despite officers reporting that they found ammunition on his property that day.
In a letter to the chairman of the T&T Police Service Commission in October 2018, Grant, via his attorney, claimed it was an attempt to set him up.
“As a consequence of the said police officers, my home was destroyed and is presently uninhabitable,” the letter claimed.
“My life was also turned upside down and I have reasonable cause to believe that there exists a plot against me by the said police officers to fabricate evidence against me and kill me,” the letter added.
That’s not the only thing about the police officers’ initial version of accounts that don’t seem to add up.
Having visited the scene of the incident on the day it occurred, multiple eyewitnesses told me, as a reporter on the scene in 2018, that the accused was not at home that morning.
They claimed officers came to Grant’s home around 5:45 am, went inside, and somehow ended up shooting one another.
In the letter, Corporal Grant, via his lawyer, claimed that “We have been furnished with further credible information that corroborates the assertion that the police officers may have gone to the home of my client with mal-intent.
“It is imperative that the acts that ensued involving Police Constable Ian of the Sangre Grande CID and Special Reserve Constable Martin be thoroughly and swiftly investigated. I am instructed that Mr Martin has a long-standing personal grievance concerning my client,” it added.
Official statements, which go along with Grant’s version, were made by other officers in the shootout.
In one of them, an officer expressed regret at having given a previous statement that contradicted Grant’s version of accounts.
In another statement, it was claimed that one of the three officers, a Constable Holder, admitted to a colleague being the first person to fire his gun in the house.
It further claimed that the Constable admitted to shooting another officer by mistake.
‘‘I was not sure if I wanted to get Police Constable Holder in trouble and that was a very hard decision for me to make,” an officer is quoted as saying.
According to reports made by officers, this is what took place that morning.
Before going to Grant’s house in Sangre Grande, all officers participating in the Eastern Division’s Operation Strike Back Exercise were briefed at the Manzanilla High School.
There, they were briefed by an inspector, an acting constable, and other senior officers, and told that there were eight targets, all of whom there were warrants for. Officers were subdivided into eight teams, with a team leader designated for each.
The first warrant executed followed proper procedure, and nothing illegal was found.
Following that search, the constable claimed that the team leader made a call to someone, before instructing the rest of the team to meet up with another senior officer, an inspector, at Madoosingh Drive in Sangre Grande.
When there, the report claimed that another officer, PC Ian, without a briefing, said the group would be going to a house in North Eastern Settlement.
An officer recalled a conversation with a senior officer that day, “I asked PC Ian if he had a warrant for the target because this was information that I observed coming forward, whilst the initial exercise was going on.”
The senior officer replied, “Yes, and it’s for illegal firearms and ammunition, but it’s at the Sangre Grande Police Station. I sent an officer, whose name I was not aware of, to retrieve it.”
Suspicious, the person giving their official statement said they had reason to believe that Grant was not a listed target of Operation Strike Back.
The person said Grant was not named in the initial eight targets who were identified in the operation’s briefing earlier that morning.
IN SEARCH OF JUSTICE
According to concerned police sources, except for Police Constable Cristopher, who is on injury leave, all officers involved are still on active duty.
This despite officer Malcolm Grant filing an official complaint to the Police Complaints Division, dated October 2018.
In what appears to be a conflict of interest, the initial police investigation into the matter was carried out by an inspector attached to the Eastern Division, the sources claimed.
They claimed that the investigator is said to be under the direct supervision of one of the senior officers who was present at the shooting incident that day.
They also believe that the investigation is being deliberately stalled by officers present at the shooting, to cover up their roles in the incident.
In a letter sent by his attorney to the T&T Police Service Commission chairman, Grant appeared to also believe this.
“Several of the officers present that morning confirmed that police officers at the scene in obedience to the instructions given to them by the commanding officer opened indiscriminate fire on the structure.
“The internal discharge of rapid gunfire which resulted in numerous bullet holes and extensive damage to the building structure can be viewed by the reasonable man to be a deliberate effort to ensure occupants within the said structure would not survive that attack,” claimed Grant.
“It is noted that the information provided to us alleges that very senior officers were involved in the shooting incident and this presents a direct conflict of interest for any investigation being conducted by officers from the Eastern Division.
“We are also very concerned about the risk to potential witnesses, police and civilians alike and the ability of the officers involved to interfere,” a letter from Grant’s attorney added.
RESPONSE FROM PCA
Director of the Police Complaints Authority David West confirmed that an investigation into the matter was opened, and is still ongoing.
Speaking in general terms, and not with specific reference to this matter, he said the greatest delay in completing investigations usually occurs when officers request documents from third parties.
“Generally, third parties try to fulfil our requests, but due to institutional delays on their part, the information takes time,” West said.
He said since stay-at-home measures were implemented on March 30, 60 matters, have been submitted to the PCA as of April 29.