Express photo editor Robert Taylor says he was “totally shocked” when he saw the sworn affidavit by Cocorite resident Cecil Skeete in which he stated that Police Commissioner Gary Griffith never choked him or assaulted him.
The Sunday Express on November 24 published a story headlined “Gary Choked Me” written by investigative journalist Denyse Renne in which Skeete gave an account of an encounter with Griffith while detained at the Four Roads police station in June. Skeete claimed that Griffith choked him and threatened to kill him.
In an affidavit dated November 26, 2019 Skeete however stated that Griffith never touched him and the Sunday Express report was false.
Renne and Taylor are standing by the story while Skeete and Griffith are saying it was all fabricated and a plot to remove the Commissioner. Both men reiterated this yesterday when told the journalists are disputing Skeete’s affidavit.
Taylor yesterday recounted what happened.
He said around 10 a.m. on November 12 he and Renne went to Cocorite to look for Skeete based on an address —Freedom Street—that Renne had. He said they did not call Skeete before.
“We got to the address and we saw a group of men and asked where Skeete was living. They told us wait and one of them walked away,” said Taylor.
He said a few minutes later Skeete came out onto the street to meet them.
“Because of the nature of the interview Denyse and I decided I would stay in the vehicle and she would speak to him first,” said Taylor.
He said he sat in the car a few feet away from where they were standing and he could have heard parts of their conversation.
“I heard him asking her (Renne) how did she get that information. He looked visibly surprised,” said Taylor.
“He (Skeete) went on to explain what happened and he said he knows that Gary and his team operate differently than how regular police operate,” he said.
He said at first Renne and Skeete were standing in the middle of the road and then they shifted to the side.
“The conversation became animated. He (Skeete) was gesticulating a lot with his hands,” said Taylor, adding that Skeete and Renne spoke for about 45 minutes.
He said Renne then called him to take photographs and Skeete indicated he did not want his photograph taken but he was willing to have photos taken of his ID card, driver’s permit and son’s ID which he held out on the palm of his hand.
“He never denied what Denyse said to him, he was telling Denyse how Gary’s team operates by taking people off the street and blindfolding them and taking them for questioning,” Taylor said.
Taylor said while he was standing with Skeete and Renne taking the photos of the IDs Skeete was complaining about the behaviour of the police and how they can enter your house without notice or identifying themselves and if you try to defend yourself they are empowered to shoot you.
Taylor said Skeete was cooperative towards Renne.
“I was shocked at what he said in his affidavit because it totally contradicts what actually happened. It was also shocking to read (in the affidavit) that he (Skeete) said he was quite disturbed, traumatised and seriously concerned and his family is now uncomfortable and living in fear,” said Taylor.
Griffith calls OCM CEO
Following the interview on November 12, Renne sent questions to Griffith on Wednesday, November 20 which Griffith has seen but not responded to.
Instead, on November 22, Griffith contacted OCM Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dawn Thomas and told her the information Renne had was not true.
Thomas told the Express she had a brief audio conversation with Griffith who was with Skeete as she was rushing to a board meeting.
“On Friday morning (November 22) I was contacted by the Police Commissioner we had an audio conference in which a gentleman who identified himself as Cecil Skeete aka “Squeeze”...I was not fully understanding everything he (Skeete) said but what I gathered was that something did happen sometime ago with the Commissioner, he didn’t deny to me that something happened, he didn’t go into any details. He just said something happened some time ago however he was now good with the Commissioner and that the Commissioner is a good man and he is trying his best in the fight against crime and that the Commissioner now has his back,” she said.
She said Griffith would have preferred the story not be published as he claimed it was false.
“I think the reason for asking Mr Skeete to speak to me was to demonstrate that they had a good relationship. But what I can tell you is that the individual never denied specifically anything, he just said something happened and he went on to say that he was good with the Commissioner now,” said Thomas.
Thomas said she did not at the time have any details of the story and she does not know the sources of the journalists and what is being worked on.
Asked about Griffith’s stance against the Express and being blacklisted, she said: “I think that is a very unfortunate position that he has taken because as an independent media organisation we are very much committed to reporting on any matter that is of public interest and holding public officials to account. Whether or not he blacklist us we will not be deterred from that mission.”
What was reported:
The Sunday Express report stated that Skeete filed a police report alleging that Griffith choked him and threatened to kill him.
The report was filed in June at the Four Roads Police Station in Diego Martin where the incident is alleged to have happened while Skeete was detained and in custody for questioning.
The report stated that the entry lodged in the diary at the police station alleges Griffith placed a gun to Skeete’s head saying, ‘I could kill you and say to my men that you try to take my gun.’
It further stated that officers attached to the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) were present during the alleged incident.
Additionally, the Station Diary Day Duty, in which the complaint was recorded by a police officer on duty at the time, was seized and remains unaccounted for.
Officers who were on duty at the Four Roads Police Station during the incident have since been transferred out of the Western Division
In the November 12 interview in Cocorite, Skeete told Renne that his son, Ronell, was once close friends with Sea Lots gang leader Akani ‘Dole’ Adams. Adams was killed by police on July 25.
With respect to his encounter with Griffith, Skeete told Renne that he was taken to a room where upon entering, he saw Griffith ‘seated and playing with a gun. It was like the way you see in a movie.’
Skeete said officers attached to the Four Roads station were told by Griffith to exit the room and only SORT officers remained.
‘A bulky SORT man was there and when the others left, the Commissioner said, ‘You is the one they does call Skeete? I hearing a lot about you.’ ‘I started to say, ‘Well, sir...’, and he said, ‘Hush yuh f------ mouth and go into that room.’’ Skeete said the room being pointed to looked like a storage space and was dark.
‘I protested and one of the SORT men grabbed and started pushing me into that room. I told him (Griffith), ‘Boss, we never had nothing, why you abusing me?’ He said he did not want to hear nothing and struck me. My hands were at my sides and I was cuffed by the big SORT man.
‘I told the Commissioner my time had passed and I was trying to get my son out the gang life. The Commissioner then started getting on hysterical and threatened to kill me if I did not give and sign a statement indicating where the guns were. I told him anything I sign or give will be under duress, and I did not know what guns he was talking about.’