WE truly wish we did not have reason to return to this issue, but we do and so we must.
Commissioner Gary Griffith’s proclivity for jumping the gun in defence of his officers, especially members of the elite Special Operations Response Team (SORT) which reports directly to him, is misplaced and his tendency to abuse members of the public is unwarranted. We recognise his instinct to protect officers but do not understand his impatience in allowing the facts to emerge and speak for themselves.
This newspaper is fully aware that in raising the issue we will once again attract the Commissioner’s ire and be accused of siding with criminals but we have been here much longer than Gary Griffith has been in policing and have good reason to insist that all parties involved in any killing, including a police killing, stand on the side of due process. If Commissioner Griffith is really serious about building public confidence in the Police Service then he must be prepared to allow the public to express their concerns and have those concerns addressed in the appropriate manner. Responding to public concerns with sarcasm and ridicule at best demeans the office of Commissioner and, at worst, interferes with the justice process.
We repeat these concerns in light of Commissioner Griffith’s criticism of members of the public who gave the media what they said were eye-witness accounts of the police killing of teenager Rochyon King Ashterman and his girlfriend Kristan Kerri Serries while in their car in Santa Cuz on Saturday. In a statement issued soon after the killings, Commissioner Griffith took to task the residents who claimed to have witnessed the shooting, sarcastically referring to them as people who have “bionic eyes” when the police are defending themselves against imminent threat but “wear blinkers and see nothing’ when gang members kill innocent persons.
Unless the Commissioner himself has “bionic eyes”, one would have to question his basis for taking sides in an incident that he himself did not witness. The appropriate response in any matter of disputed accounts is an investigation. Surely there is a protocol to be followed in such cases. The mother of one of the victims has already signalled her intention to file a complaint with the Police Complaints Authority, already burdened with numerous complaints related to police killings.
Perhaps Commissioner Griffith does not yet understand why the public holds the T&T Police Service in low esteem, as was underscored by the findings of the Market Facts and Opinion poll published in the Sunday Express. If so, we can help him by pointing to the long history of police officers involved in extra-judicial killings as uncovered by the Scott Drug Report of the 1980s, and to the long list of officers who have appeared before the court on charges ranging from murder, to kidnapping, robbery and other serious crimes. Since he has been in office, several officers have been charged and taken before the court.
This is why we urge Commissioner Griffith against jumping to conclusions and to allowing the facts to emerge by due process.