Monday, 3 August 2015

NO FIREARMS FOR OFF DUTY PRISON OFFICERS

Recent events involving prison officers justify and make prophetic our commentaries on the arming of off duty prison officers. From as far back as January 2011, we opposed the demands by the Prison Officers' Association to have their members armed when off duty. At that time, 23rd January 2011, we wrote the following:

No Firearms For Off Duty Prison Officers

Sunday, 23 January 2011


That is our position on the call by prison officers to the authorities. We, as a group of responsible, law abiding citizens say a categorical, unequivocal and resounding NO to that request and we have communicated our objections in writing to Prisons Commissioner John Rougier, Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, Justice Minister Herbert Volney and National Security Ministers John Sandy and Subash Panday.

To begin with, being in possession of a firearm does not guarantee the safety of the off duty prison officer. None other than Prison Commissioner Mike Hercules learned this the hard way when 16 year old Nevada Johnson, a 'duncey-head' piece of shit from Morvant shot him dead and stole his firearm.

Criminals, as we all know, routinely and fearlessly engage in shoot-outs with well trained, heavily armed police squads and teams. What makes Prison Officers believe that the same armed criminals would hesitate to target the individual off duty prison officer, who even though armed, like Hercules was, when attacked, is usually alone or with an unarmed friend or two.

The recent fatal shooting of the Diaz brothers took place as they were leaving a rum shop at 2.30 in the morning. One wonders whether they could have passed sobriety tests and what might have happened had they been armed at the time. Family members admit that the brothers had been the recipients of death threats over a period of time.

People, generally, need to take responsibility for their own actions, and by extension, their own safety and Prison officers are not exempt from that need to exercise reasonable and sensible precaution as they go about their daily off duty routines. They, more than anyone else ought to be aware of the occupational risks they face, which incidentally they are paid to face, both on and off the job.

But putting occupational risks aside, the Prison Officers Association needs to rid itself of the notion and the belief that its officers are saints when on the job and sacrificial lambs when off. Prison Officer Bernard Kirk was killed in May 2010 during a drunken brawl at Salybia Beach between a group of prison officers who it is alleged were drunk and misbehaving, beating members of a family who were on the beach. We can well imagine the blood bath that would have resulted had any of these officers been armed.

The Association needs also to examine to what extent the activities of officers behind prison walls contribute to attacks they sustain on the outside. It has been established on several occasions that many prison officers inflict unnecessary and unprovoked brutality on inmates simply because of the officers' ignorance, their bullying nature and their own criminal predisposition to violence.

It is alleged by families of inmates that another officer who was shot dead in Laventille recently was in the habit of lining up prisoners and using them as practice for his karate"drop-kicks". He has been accused of being one of the most brutal officers at the Golden Grove facility.

Then we had the case of Sean Wallace, a former prisoner who was recently awarded more than $300,000 in damages and costs for a beating he sustained at the hands of prison officers. The Judge, Justice Andre Des Vignes, described the attack as "barbaric behaviour, a wicked and unwarranted brutalisation of the claimant”. The angry judge said that " millions of dollars were being paid out by the State in cases like this and nothing was being done". He produced several judgments during the last ten years to show awards given by judges for licks imposed by police and prisons officers.

He further said “When one thought that this would stop, the abuse continues. Notwithstanding what has been said before, the message has not gotten through to the rank and file. It paints a disgusting picture. No investigation had been conducted in this matter; no excuse has been given for the conduct of the prisons officers. This was barbaric behaviour, a wicked and unwarranted brutalisation of the claimant,” The judge said "The claimant Wallace suffered mental anguish and great humiliation. Prisons officers took turns at beating and kicking Wallace about the body and face". Des Vignes awarded $160,000 in general damages; $70,000 in exemplary damages, $13,848 in interest, and $46,577 in costs

The attack was described in these following words:
"Wallace, 44, of Santa Cruz, was incarcerated at the Port-of-Spain State Prison on March 17, 2008. He was there to serve a sentence of 30 months. While sitting in the north-east corner of the prison, a bag with cigarettes came over the wall. According to Wallace, that was when his problems began. Officer after officer inflicted blows on him. Wallace said an officer named Ganpat hit him with a baton on his head. “I became disoriented and fell grabbing the wall. I said, ‘Oh God, Mr Ganpat, what is that.’ Ganpat took up the staff and jammed it into my ribs.”

Wallace said Ganpat beat him all over his body. During this time, Wallace said he was screaming. He said when Ganpat stopped beating him, he was then kicked in his face with his boots. The blows, he said, were so vicious, that he started to spit blood. Wallace said another prisons officer was passing in the corridor and turned to Ganpat and said, “Oh gosh, enough is enough, what yuh want to do, kill him?” Ganpat waited for the officer to leave and then he continued to rain blows on Wallace. The injuries were so severe that Wallace was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. He spent four days there before he was taken back to the prison
".
Then there was the case of Anton Cooper who was beaten to death by Prison Officers who got away scot-free. The following are excerpts of two (2) of several documented eye-witness accounts of that incident:
He [Anton Cooper] started crying for his mother, and this apparently got four officials annoyed, and they pulled him out of his cell block. They put a paper hat on him and a paper gun in his hand and told him he was a soldier in war and he should shoot anyone on sight. Every time someone passed by and he didn’t aim the gun at his ‘enemy’ he was repeatedly cuffed, kicked, slapped and hit with their batons. Not satisfied they made him sit over a pail of filth [most likely excrement] and walk like a dog while they laughed their heads off...what I saw was murder.
"they beat him [Anton Cooper] from 7pm to 1 am. [He] was made to take off his clothes and he was beaten about his body. His face, the right side, was badly swollen and bleeding. Blood was unning down his face and onto his body. He was made to take a bath around 10pm to 11pm and he was beaten while taking his bath. The said officers took out the sleeping mat from his cell and wet down his cell. After the officers finish beating him they rested him in the wet, cold cell. Then they wet him from head to toe with nothing to lay down on but the cold concrete. Anton bawl from pain from 1am to about 4 am ….Anton died at the hands of these officers".

Is that what the State is being called upon by prison officers and their association to protect by putting firearms in the hands of prison officers who are themselves operating on the wrong side of the law?

Why should the State be expected to provide security to officers who engage in criminal conduct on the job but are afraid of reprisals off the job, Why should the State give special protection to officers who misbehave off the job as well when they and their families go beach and river 'liming', drinking, getting drunk and assaulting people?

The authorities also need to determine the extent to which certain prison officers may be responsible for these (fatal) attacks on their own officer colleagues. The Prison Service, like its Police counterpart, is rife with corruption and rogue elements who are no less criminal in character than the very criminals they guard.

The active involvement of prison officers in crime and corruption behind prison walls is a matter of public knowledge even though various commissioners of the Prison Service failed or refused to see what was going on under their noses.

From the vibrant drug trade conducted by lower level officers that has flourished unhindered for the past forty years, to other illicit trade in contraband items such as cigarettes, liquor and condoms that could not survive without the knowledge and licence of senior officers, our penal institutions have been turned into command and recruitment centers for the criminal element, where criminals who land up there, whom we expect would no longer pose a threat to us, are yet able to continue directing their criminal enterprise on the outside, recruiting ‘hitmen’ and kidnappers to murder State witnesses and kidnap their families.

But no hit, I repeat no hit, whether on State witness or prison officer, and I say so without fear of contradiction or censure, can be ordered from behind prison walls without the active complicity and collusion of prison officers themselves.

Prisoners, are not allowed one on one visits except by special permission and such visits are closely supervised by an officer, so for a hit to be ordered through a visitor, or through a cell phone passed to a prisoner by a visitor, an officer must allow it.

Normal visits involve prisoners standing on one side of a glass partition and visitors standing behind another glass partition through which they communicate via a monitored telephone. Priot to the introduction of the telephone there was an empty 20 foot space separating the two groups. and communication between the groups was reduced to a noisy, fish market type shouting match across that 20 foot space.  It is inconceivable for hit instructions to be given in either the monitored telephone scenario or the noisy, public scenario.

So, it is more than likely that hits are issued via cell phones and during those closely supervised personal visits. We know for a fact that officers themselves are directly involved in the smuggling of cell phones and top up cards into the prisons. If per chance visitors are themselves engaged in smuggling in these items, again, it could not happen without officers allowing it to happen as everyone is carefully searched on entering prison gates.

So what we have is a situation where compliant and corrupt prison officers are colluding with incarcerated criminals to issue hits on their own colleagues on the outside.

The current Commissioner John Rougier seems to be cut from a different cloth and he has been attempting to clean up shop. The odds are against him, given the limited time he has before retirement, and this may very well explain his reluctance to provide arms to off duty officers who themselves may be operating on the wrong side of the law. But we wish him success in his attempts to cleanse those Augean Stables.

In the meantime, citizens must insist that off duty prison officers should not be given firearms or any other type of special protection by the State. We must insist that the Prison Service first be cleansed of its many undesirable elements. When this happens, attacks on officers may very well become a thing of the past.

But in the meantime, as they sow, so must they reap.

Then again two years later on 24 November 2013 we had the following to say:

WE REPEAT, "No Firearms For Off Duty Prison Officers"

Nearly three years ago, on January 23, 2011 to be exact, we wrote the following piece in opposition to the call for off-duty Prison Officers to be armed. While the commentary dealt with entirely different issues, at the time of writing it made pointed reference to what was common knowledge and had been for the longest time about the brutality, corruption and criminality of prison officers and the fact that many of them are no different to the criminals they are paid to guard. Putting guns into the hands of such officers when they walk the streets off duty would be courting disaster for the public.

We restate our position today in the light of recent attacks against Prison Officers, the murder of one of them and the renewal of calls for them to be armed when off duty..

While the above commentary dealt with an entirely different issue it makes pointed reference to what has been common knowledge for the longest time about the brutality, corruption and criminality of prison officers and the fact that many officers are no different to the criminals they are paid to guard .

Putting guns into the hands of such officers when they walk the streets off duty would be courting disaster for the public.

Today, the incident involving Prison Officer Robert Seecharan who was shot dead by his step-daughter justifies our strong opposition to the arming of off duty prison officers. The step daughter and wife paint a picture of a brutal, sadistic officer who admitted on several occasions to beating prisoners until they bled, a fact supported by the blood spattered clothing with which he often returned home.

Seecharan was issued a firearm following threats from prisoners who had suffered violent, brutal attacks at his hands, the very point we made in our first commentary.

We again caution the authorities against arming off duty prison officers until that agency is cleansed of the many corrupt, rogue officers, seven of whom are directly responsible for the recent jail break that claimed the life of an innocent police officer.

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