Lawyers representing Special Operations Response Team (SORT) head Inspector Mark Hernandez and other members of the unit under investigation for the deaths of two suspects in the abduction and murder of Andrea Bharatt, have complained about the tactics being used by investigators of the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB).
Guardian Media understands that Hernandez’s team of lawyers and a separate set for the 14 other officers and soldiers who have been questioned by investigators over the past two weeks, raised the issue in a series of legal letters sent to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob between Wednesday and yesterday.
In a letter sent to Jacob on Wednesday, which was obtained by Guardian Media, Robert Vincent Charles and Darren Mitchell, who are representing most of the group, pointed out several serious concerns and irregularities with their clients’ treatment.
“Despite our arrival at the Maloney Police Station at the designated hour indicated by telephone message to each SORT member, there were inordinate and unjustifiable delays in commencing the interviews that were based solely on the interpretation by investigators of the TTPS’s directive that a person being interviewed for a capital matter must consult with an attorney-at-law from the Legal Aid Duty Counsel,” Charles said, as he pointed out that his clients had the constitutional right to a legal advisor of their own choice.
Charles also pointed out that investigators acted oppressively, as in one case they waited 27 hours after an officer surrendered to interview him and then spent six hours questioning him over issues, which he (the officer) had already extensively addressed in a previously provided witness statement.
Charles’ correspondence mainly focused on alleged threats and inducements used by investigators in an attempt to have the officers implicate themselves.
According to Charles, the investigators suggested to one officer that if he co-operated he would be charged with a lesser offence and be granted bail.
“This was done in my absence and during this lengthy interview. Unsurprisingly, my client took this statement from both investigators as an inducement and/or threat to him, whilst the interview was being conducted,” Charles said, as he noted his other clients were also subjected to such improper conduct.
Charles suggested that the investigators’ conduct breached his clients’ constitutional rights.
“Whilst I certainly appreciate that the matters under enquiry are of a serious nature, I am deeply troubled and indeed disappointed to have to highlight the fact that all of my clients are serving members of the various protective arms of the State and as with all suspects in every matter under enquiry, enjoy the protection of the law in relation to their constitutional rights and privileges,” Charles said, as he called on Jacob to launch an investigation into the investigators’ conduct.
In a letter sent to Griffith yesterday, Hernandez’s lawyers, Wayne Sturge, Mario Merritt and Alexia Romero, sought to threaten legal action over his protracted detention without being charged.
Hernandez’s legal team claimed that after he submitted himself to police on Wednesday, investigators allegedly claimed they had the expectation that he would self-incriminate himself during an interview and be charged based on his expected alleged admissions.
“The actions of the police officers are clearly oppressive, as they are designed to sap the willpower of my client in the hope that he will surrender evidence that can form the basis for a criminal charge. I trust that you will understand the prejudice that flows from this type of action in relation to any possible prosecution,” Sturge said.
Sturge suggested that the investigators’ actions highlighted the extent of the evidence already gathered by them.
“What has been pellucidly clear is that at present, the investigating officers have no evidence that my client was involved in the commission of any criminal offence,” he added, as he gave investigators until 4 pm yesterday to release his client.
Guardian Media understands the lawyers had not received a response up to late yesterday and were expected to file the proposed habeas corpus lawsuit.
Sources said Hernandez and a woman police constable (WPC) were the only two of the group of almost two dozen people detained for questioning who remained in custody up to yesterday afternoon.
Both Hernandez and the WPC were expected to participate in separate identification parades, which were scheduled to take place after midday yesterday.
Sources said PSB investigators are considering whether to charge some of the officers with the duo’s murder, as well as for the alleged assault of a man who was held for questioning in relation to Bharatt’s disappearance.
Charges of misbehaviour in public office and perverting the course of justice are also said to be under consideration.
However, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) would have to give investigators the green light to lay charges after considering the evidence they have gathered.
Balcon and Morris were prime suspects in the abduction of Bharratt, a clerk at the Arima Magistrate’s Court, who went missing on January 29.
Within hours of Bharratt’s disappearance, Morris and Balcon were detained by a team of SORT and Anti-Kidnapping Unit (AKU) officers.
Morris died at hospital on February 1, while Balcon succumbed to injuries he allegedly sustained in police custody almost a week later.
Bharratt’s bloated and decomposing body was found days before Balcon’s death (February 4) dumped over a precipice in Heights of Aripo.
Negus George was eventually charged with Bharratt’s murder.
Hernandez has been short-listed for one of three Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) posts. His nomination by the Police Service Commission (PSC) is yet to be debated and approved by Parliament.
Hernandez is also being represented by John Heath.