“Curious and unusual” were two words used by investigators to describe the gunshot injuries on the bodies of five people, including two teenagers, who were killed by police in Trou Macaque, Laventille, last week.
The comments came after the autopsies were done at the Forensic Science Centre in St James yesterday.
Family members said they are now considering hiring a private pathologist to do second autopsies as they were not satisfied with the vague report they received, which stated that death was as a result of multiple gunshot injuries.
The post-mortems also almost did not come off yesterday, after a contractor installed a new steel door to the examination room, removing the old wooden door which had a glass viewing panel, effectively prohibiting family members from seeing the bodies to identify them — a legal requirement before anything can be done. The door, which was installed over the weekend, was eventually removed completely to facilitate the process.
In each case, the autopsies found that the victims were shot in the chest. One of them was shot three times while the others were either shot twice or once, an investigator said, speaking on the condition of strict anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“I have not seen this pattern of injuries in any police-related killings before, it is very curious and unusual,” the officer said.
The findings are expected to be forwarded to the Commissioner of Police and Police Complaints Authority.
Homicide Bureau head Supt Anthony James is leading the probe into the matter while the PCA is pursuing a separate enquiry.
The autopsy findings are the first scientific forensic information coming to light after the deadly shooting incident which has prompted a wave of criticism about the excessive use of force by the police and an outcry for an independent enquiry from relatives of the deceased.
The victims’ hands were also swabbed to determine if there was any “primer” residue which would indicate if they fired a weapon. But sources said the bodies may have been contaminated since they were taken from the scene by police to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital and in one case a test-tube had been inserted in one of the victim’s chest to drain out blood.
Relatives and eyewitnesses claim the five victims were sitting on a sofa and a bench playing cards when they were confronted by police. Eyewitnesses said the victims also had their hands in the air when they were shot.
But police claimed they engaged in a gun-fight with the victims and recovered two weapons. One officer claimed he was shot in the chest but his bullet-proof vest stopped the bullet.
Family members showed the media several bullet holes in the house where the five were shot, noting one bullet pierced a louvre panel and reportedly narrowly missed an occupant of the house.
According to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, around 9.30 pm last Thursday officers were on a “basic” mobile patrol along Upper Wharton Street, Trou Macaque, Laventille, when they claimed they were “greeted by gunfire.” Griffith said there was an exchange of gunfire and five men were wounded.
The victims have been identified as 17-year-old Servol student Phillip-Williams, 15-year-old Shakeem Francois, Nicholas Barker, Mechack “Nitro” Douglas, 24 and Shawndell “Crash” St Clair, 20. Douglas was shot three times.
Police sources said Douglas and St Clair were wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of Darren “Cowman” King, who was killed on April 18. However, when questioned over her son’s alleged gang affiliation yesterday, St Clair’s mother Dianne said she honestly could not say.
“People saying all kind of things but I could only say what I know and saw,” she said.
Asked to describe her son, an emotional St Clair could not help but smile as she said: “He used to make all of us laugh.”
Since the incident, the T&T Police Service has stated it is investigating a series of threats that were sent to some of the officers involved in the shooting. There was also an alleged threat to plant bombs in police stations across T&T.
Griffith has been criticised by some citizens over his public commentary after the shooting, in which he supported his officers’ actions and threatened retaliation against would-be criminals who seek to engage the police with illegal firearms.
State accused of
tampering in process
Speaking with Guardian Media yesterday after the autopsies were completed by forensic pathologist Dr Hughvon Des Vignes, several relatives alleged that the State was tampering with the process.
Referring to his death certificate, Kadeem Phillip-Williams’ mother noted that it only stated he died of multiple gunshot wounds.
“It doesn’t say anywhere in this that he had his hands up and then they shoot him,” she said as she re-enacted her son’s alleged body movement.
Her comments were echoed by the mothers of the other victims.
Guardian Media understands that while the death certificate is brief and generated immediately after the autopsy, pathologists usually take additional time to prepare a more detailed final report.
The relatives’ scepticism over a potential cover-up was compounded by an issue with a renovation done at Forensic Science Centre recently. When relatives arrived yesterday, they complained after they realised the door to the area where the autopsies are performed was replaced with one that did not have a viewing window.
Relatives claimed it was only after they protested the staff agreed to open the door to allow them viewing access.
“First they wash their bodies at hospital, now they trying to lock us out of the autopsies. They trying to hide all the evidence,” a female relative said.
The relatives claimed the arrest of Phillip-Williams’ brother Kurt on an outstanding warrant on Sunday night was also a ploy by police to silence them. He had been a vociferous voice after the killings.
“All this time they have that warrant and they didn’t do anything? It is because he went on television and expose them,” one relative said, adding they would be continuing peaceful protest action on the issue.
Funeral arrangements were yet to be finalised up to yesterday, but relatives said they would take place later this week.
- by Daren Bahaw and Derek Achong