Autopsy: Police shooting victims hit in chests

“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

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