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Responding to claims in a pre-action protocol letter on behalf of the Marcelle brothers—Kareem, Kevin, Kern—that police and soldiers entered their Beetham Gardens property on June 27 and carried out a search during which they damaged the house and left Kareem nursing injuries, Hodge-Griffith said it was a "sad" turn of events as officers are not about hurting the public.
Hodge-Griffith, who works closely with Kareem Marcelle to bolster community relations and improve the level of interaction between the police and residents, described him as an "outstanding" role model at Beetham Gardens.
She said despite the setbacks, Kareem has remained focused on improving his lot in life and was working assiduously to achieve his goals to become an attorney.
Unaware of the search and resultant outcome, the senior officer denied her division engaged in any sort of community profiling.
A senior officer, however, described Kareem's situation as "collateral casualty."
In the letter dated July 6, addressed to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and copied to Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, attorney Jonathan Bhagan accused the search party of subjecting the brothers to an unlawful deprivation of liberty; malicious procurement of a search warrant; breach of constitutional rights; damage to property; and inhumane and degrading conduct.
Claiming the search was carried out under the guise of the Anti-Gang Act 2018, Bhagan also requested to meet with the AG and the CoP to discuss improving the treatment of residents from Beetham Gardens.
Hodge-Griffith yesterday sought to clarify how officers should operate: "If we have two or more persons gathered for the purpose of committing a crime or conducting or carrying out crime, we will consider linking that to the Anti-Gang legislation.
"You have to be seen gathering for a purpose whether it is illegal, or for gang activity or a number of activities under the act, so to say that people are being profiled in that sense, I don't know and can't speak to that."
Asked about the main issues impeding the positive development of marginalised communities such as Beetham Gardens, Laventille, and Morvant, Hodge-Griffith said the authorities were focused on providing remedial assistance; security; theatre arts development; musical training; and sports training to all residents.
Claiming that several initiatives had been implemented to assist people who want it, she admitted there continued to be criminal elements from these areas who refused to embrace the positive offerings.
She pledged to continue walking the beat and talking with residents in affected areas. "The police can only do so much about the homicides in this country. We have a number of strategies and initiatives but yet still we continue to pick up bodies."
Offering her personal view, Hodge-Griffith said "We have to get the people to understand how valuable life is and it is in this regard that I will not stop talking because it is a culture and mindset we have to change if we want to save future generations."
She said it was heartbreaking that many young men in marginalised communities had refused to plan their lives beyond the age of 22, as they believe they would not survive life in the streets.
Several grey areas in Anti-Gang Act—criminologist
Criminologist Ian Ramdhanie said there are several "grey" areas in the Anti-Gang Act 2018 which could allow police officers to misuse/abuse their authority and create a contentious situation.
• One such area was the offence to harbour a gang leader or gang member.
He asked, "What if a person does not know if the person staying by him is a gang leader or gang member? Sometimes, you may not know that your child, spouse, or relative that might be staying at your home is a gang leader or member."
He said while many times parents or guardians are unaware of what their children do outside of the home, "You will have to convince them after arrest and charge that you did not know this. But you can be charged and have to go through the whole process to clear this up."
• It's a crime to lie to the police about the whereabouts of someone who is a gang leader or gang member, and failure to inform officers of their whereabouts is also a crime.
Ramdhanie asked, "What about the fact that you may not want to say anything for your own safety? You can still be charged. You may not want it to be known that it is you who gave the whereabouts of a gang leader or gang member but the law states that you must. If gang-related persons find out it is Person X who gave their whereabouts, there can be serious repercussions."
• A serious area of concern is the fact that people who tip-off gang leaders/members that the police is doing investigations on a specific person can be charged for an offence.
"This can be another avenue for potential abuse of police authority using the Anti-Gang legislation as an innocent person can be accused of tipping off a suspect, when this may not be the case and that innocent person will be arrested and charged."
• Police can arrest without a warrant if they have reasonable cause to believe a gang leader or gang member committed a crime.
"Again, arresting without a warrant on reasonable cause can be unfairly exploited by the police."
Asked to comment on Kareem who is not involved in any unlawful activity and was described as "collateral casualty" following the search, Ramdhanie said "Once the police executes a search, they can detain all of the persons who are there at that time. These can include parents, friends, etc. They can then release persons after they find out that they have nothing to do with the matter that they were investigating.
"Detaining the innocent university student who has nothing to do with the activities should ring a bell in the community to take a stand on crime. It should make them realise that crime should not be tolerated in their communities even though their members may be involved in it. It should also let them know that by simple association with such persons, they can be detained according to the law."
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