Close to 22 officers from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) have been fingered in the deaths of Joel Balcon and Andrew Morris, the prime suspects in the murder of Andrea Bharatt, 23, of Arima, according to a preliminary report.
Well-placed sources told Guardian Media that preliminary internal recommendations from the probe being done by the police include either sending the officers on suspension pending the outcome of the investigation or allowing them to remain on duty while the investigations are ongoing.
However, sources close to the development said these recommendations are not final, would be looked into further and careful consideration made on the decisions to be taken. Sources also stated that because the officers were masked there isn’t “much concrete evidence with regards to identifying the officers.” A suggestion from the preliminary report also includes shutting down SORT. However, “There’s no finality on that just yet,” added a well-placed source.
According to sources, SORT had up until Friday to submit their reports about the incident.
Guardian Media spoke with several people who would have provided the police with information about the deaths of Balcon and Morris over the last few days.
Guardian Media understands that the preliminary findings of this particular report, part of the internal/divisional investigation that began last Monday and which was exclusively reported by the Sunday Guardian, are expected to be handed over to the DCP for Crime McDonald Jacob on Monday. Two Acting Superintendents of Police were mandated to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of both men.
Apart from this investigation, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) have started separate investigations into the deaths. Homicide investigators are also conducting a fourth investigation.
Morris, who was known to the police and was also a known drug dealer in Tumpuna, Arima, where he lived, was detained by officers of SORT on January 31, and his family alleged he was beaten in their presence before being taken away. The following day Morris died at the Arima Hospital.
Two post mortems were done on Morris’ body—one by the State and the other privately by relatives—revealed he died from blunt force trauma.
According to the first autopsy done at the Forensic Science Centre Morris suffered brain fractures, several broken ribs, bleeding from internal organs, burnt marks to the back (allegedly from a taser), contusion to the right eye, bleeding to the brain as well as damage to his shoulders and legs.
Balcon, who police labelled as the mastermind in the kidnapping and murder of Bharatt, a clerk at the Arima Magistrates’ Court, was known to the police as a sexual, drug, firearms, robbery and larceny offender. He was in an unconscious state until he died two Mondays ago, eight days after he was detained by police.
Balcon had been picked up mere hours after Morris and was later hospitalised at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex after suffering massive head injuries. He was also paralysed.
A post mortem on Balcon’s body at the Forensic Science Centre in St James by pathologist Dr Eastlyn McDonald-Burris revealed he died due to multiple trauma to the body.
The injuries he sustained could have been due to a beating he allegedly sustained while trying to escape police custody.
A major concern noted by several witnesses who gave information to the police had to do with the standard operating procedure of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) and the covering of the officers’ faces. They recommended that if officers are executing warrants they should not cover their faces.
Those interviewed by the senior officers also recommended that there should be a mandatory policy of wearing body cameras for police officers assigned to tactical or operational units.
Minister of National Security Stuart Young had said almost a week ago that he had been informed by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith that SORT, The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) would be soon equipped with body cameras.
Guardian Media also understands that several of the people who spoke to the investigators were not comfortable in revealing what they knew about this particular matter and felt that the methods of giving statements and evidence should be revised for the safety of citizens.
Senior sources familiar with the ongoing investigations said that several other people were approached to give statements but were fearful for their lives.
On the PSB side of the investigation, one source pointed out that they had spoken to several people who had expressed fear about giving any statements on the alleged beatings.
Meanwhile, Director of the Police Compliant Authority (PCA) David West has said that investigations into the deaths of Morris and Balcon are continuing.
He could not give a timeline as to when the investigations will be completed.
“I don’t want to give a timeline on the investigations. I am investigating the matter and we’re looking at all aspects of the investigations right now,” he said.
In a statement to the media last Monday, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said a “full-scale” police investigation has been launched into the matter.
Bharatt went missing on January 29, and her body found dumped down a precipice in the Heights of Aripo six days later.