Video footage seen by the Sunday Express shows a Special Operations Response Team (SORT) officer secretly stuffing a block of cash into his tactical uniform during the raid at a La Horquetta residence last week, during which an estimated $22 million was seized.
The money belongs to an organisation called Drugs Sou Sou (DSS), which is founded by Kerron Clarke, an active member of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.
The money was returned the next day, unknown to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, who has ordered an investigation.
The footage, which also shows officers assaulting occupants of the house, consists of audio and video, with the cameras positioned at various locations throughout the building.
SORT, the brainchild of Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, is led by Sgt Mark Hernandez. The unit comprises police officers and former Defence Force (Army) personnel who were made Special Reserve Police.
The footage also shows a disagreement among senior officers on the raid, with some claiming they had no grounds to confiscate the cash since receipts and accounts showed the monies being accounted for.
Officers attempted to cut the recording feed, but there was back-up remote access and the cameras kept recording.
The officer who pocketed the cash into his tactical gear was attached to the Defence Force Special Forces and is now a Special Reserve Police. The other officer who stood guard at the door while the money was being taken is also a former soldier.
Camera one’s feed, which recorded the room in question, also carries audio. Money is seen on chairs and countertops and the floor.
‘Where is the warrant?’
Prior to the officer entering the room, a woman who is identified as Chantelle, a member of DSS, is heard asking, “You all came into the house without a warrant.... Where is the warrant? Show me the warrant, please...where is the warrant? Who in charge of this operation? Who is the officer in charge? So it has nobody in charge?”
The door to the adjoining room then opens; the SORT officer looks at the cash on a swivel chair and countertops, and pulls an envelope with cash from his pants’ side pocket.
He tries stuffing the envelope into the top part of his tactical wear above the bullet-proof vest. As this is taking place, another officer stands guard at the entrance.
The officer with the cash is having problems inserting it inside his vest. At this point, the officer keeping guard says, “Men walking out dey.”
Meanwhile, the voice of Chantelle is again heard asking, “So nobody is going and answer? So we have no rights? He opening doors here, there and everywhere and just watching.... Up to now, I have not seen any warrant. I want to see the officer in charge, please. You know how many times I am asking...?”
The officer quickly places the money inside the front of his pants, then pats himself down and leaves the room.
A few seconds after his exit, a police officer enters the room and points out the boxes of cash to his colleague, saying, “Allyuh see what going on dey...? What the f---, boy?” He starts laughing and leaves the room.
A minute later, Hernandez enters and points to the two Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Audio Visual Unit officers, saying, “It have a box dey and another dey,” before leaving the duo to film footage. The pair then leave.
Another masked officer enters, looks around, changes the direction of the chair and takes numerous pictures of the cash, using his cellphone. Following his departure, an unmasked officer enters, points his firearm to the ceiling and then leaves.
How SORT gained access
Camera five footage shows SORT officers with high-powered firearms pointing through a window, ordering the occupants to open the door. The door is opened from the inside. Officers storm the residence. Occupants begin screaming while officers run through the house, kicking down doors.
Hundreds of dollars are scattered on the floor. A woman holding a baby is escorted outside by a heavily armed officer. TTPS Audio Visual Unit officers enter, then exit, and liaise with Hernandez outside the premises.
Other people in the house are then repeatedly struck by a SORT officer before being told to go outside.
The SORT officers attempt to disconnect the cameras.
The Sunday Express understands following the physical assault, medicals were conducted.
Those assaulted include a 20-year-old woman cuffed in the back; a 22-year-old man beaten with a gun butt and slapped on the face; a 30-year-old man hit with a gun butt in the head and lower back; a 19-year-old man hit with a gun butt on the head; a 23-year-old woman hit on the head with a gun; a 24-year-old woman who sustained injuries to the wrist and was hit with a gun to the lower back.
Cops: On what grounds are we seizing the cash?
While in the garage of the home, senior officers gathered, inclusive of Hernandez and Financial Investigation Branch (FIB) officers.
Questions were raised as to whether they could seize the cash found. Several of those present indicated they had no lawful authority to do so.
Hernandez said he will not be trying the case “here”, and “leave it for the courts”. He then instructed that the cash be removed from the residence and taken to the station.
By 3.30 p.m., the search was completed and the occupants taken to the La Horquetta Police Station. By 10 p.m., the occupants were released without charge. By that time, officers, including those at the FIB, were still counting the seized cash at the station. The monies were returned following consultation with all senior officers present, inclusive of the FIB and Hernandez.
The footage also showed the arrival of attorney Rosario Sookdeo and his interaction with an officer who identified himself as PC Dale Hall, who said he was the investigating officer.
Sookdeo, the Sunday Express was told, asked to speak with his clients. Hall declined, saying the premises were being searched. Sookdeo saw seven persons kneeling, and armed officers hovering over them.
At 11.45 a.m. on September 22, Sookdeo again asked to see the warrant, and queried whether it was necessary for his clients to be kneeling.
A short while later, attorney Dana-Marie Smith, of the law chambers of Sophia Chote, arrived, asking if anyone was injured. Those kneeling said yes, and she proceeded to take notes. Hall asked that she stop consulting with her clients.
Following two searches being conducted without a warrant being seen, acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde arrived.
Officers of the FIB also arrived, but remained in the roadway.
Forde told the Express via WhatsApp last Thursday that a warrant was obtained for firearms and ammunition, and the FIB was involved in the operation.
What the footage shows
Camera eight: Unmarked, heavily tinted SUVs arrive at the scene at 10.31 a.m. Heavily armed officers in camouflage wear emerge, clearing the street. Two officers attached to the TTPS Audio Visual Unit also arrive.
Camera five: A high-powered firearm is pointed through the window of the home by an officer. An officer demands that the door be opened. The door is opened from the inside. Officers storm the residence.
Occupants scream, officers run through the house, kicking down doors. Hundreds of dollars are scattered on the floor. A woman holding a baby is escorted outside by a heavily armed officer. TTPS AV Unit officers enter, then exit and liaise with Hernandez.
Camera four: AV Unit duo enter. Hernandez spots the security camera and points at the camera. Officers enter the house, pointing guns at the occupants, ordering them to place their hands in the air. Officers start slapping, pushing men and women. Officers are in and out of rooms with cash.
Camera six: September 22, at 12.10 p.m.
Footage shows a man and woman kneeling, hands on their heads; floor cluttered with cash and receipt books. TTPS AV duo tape those kneeling. Women cry, and slaps are heard.
Camera nine: Detention bus is parked on the street. Heavily armed officers with their faces covered, wearing camouflage, are present. PC Hill interacts with attorney Sookdeo.