Members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) walk through Rich Plain Street, Diego Martin as they investigate the death of a police officer in the area on Friday. –
Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob has described the death of a 44-year-old policeman as an “act of war” and warned criminals that such actions would not be taken lightly.
According to the official police report, the officer, PC Clarence Gilkes was part of a team of 12 officers from the Western Division Task Force who received information of men armed with high-powered rifles on Upper Rich Plains Road, Diego Martin, at around 3 pm on Friday.
The report said they went to the area but were shot at by the men.
Gilkes was shot once in his neck.
The other officers took him to the hospital where he was declared dead shortly after.
Within the hour, officers from the West End Police Station, Western Division Task Force, Four Roads police and the Inter Agency Task Force went to the scene blocking off entry and exit points in the immediate area to try and find the men.
Police set up road blocks and had drivers open the trunks of their cars as part of the search.
For almost two hours only residents of Upper Rich Plains Road, were allowed to drive past these check points.
Up to late on Friday night, police officers of various units and members of the defence force combed the hills and back roads of Diego Martin, Carenage and Chaguaramas in search of the men.
Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob visited the area just before 7 pm with other senior officers and spoke with residents in the area.
Speaking with reporters at near the scene of the incident, Jacob described Gilkes’ death as “dastardly” and said no effort would be spared in finding those responsible and warned that such actions against the police would not be tolerated.
“They have declared war on the police service and I think that is the worst mistake anyone can make.
“Yes we operate within the framework of the law but we will do all that is necessary to deal with these persons who are responsible for this act.
“When you touch one police officer you have touched all. We are out here and we will do what is required to bring these people to justice.”
He added that the officers involved were in pursuit of the gunmen who shot at them but they would be removed from duty and would receive counselling, noting that while they were able to escape the incident unharmed, they would have suffered some trauma from witnessing Gilkes’ death.
Police officers search the truck of a car entering Rich Plain Road, Diego Martin, as they search for suspects in the shooting death of PC Clarence Gilkes on Friday. – Angelo Marcelle
He said while the incident was saddening, it has further strengthened the morale of the police, noting that several officers have since volunteered to continue working even after their shifts have ended to help search for the shooting suspects.
“We have to hold back officers who were looking forward to coming here because we had sufficient people on the ground to see about this matter.
“Some officers who supposed to report off duty have decided to continue working to support their colleagues.
“When someone feels this will break the back of the police service, all it will do at this stage is cause the officers to get stronger in our resolve to deal with criminal elements in TT.”
Residents tell different story
Despite Jacob’s insistence that Gilkes was killed by bandits, several residents in the area claim the officer was shot and killed by accident from another policeman’s weapon.
A woman who identified herself as a relative of one of the suspects being sought by police in the shooting denied claims that her son was involved in the shooting.
She said while her son led a life of crime in the past, he was making attempts to stay away from trouble but was routinely being harassed by police in the community and claimed he was being made a scapegoat for Gilkes’ death.
“I got a call because I was heading up here to drop some stuff for my grandchildren and my daughter called me, she said, ‘Mom I don’t think you should come up here because the police are all over.
“The police shot their own policeman and I know this because one of their own police officers made that call to my daughter and I’m not willing to divulge that person’s name as yet.
“This is the second time they have tried to frame my son.”
The woman said her son has since filed a lawsuit against the police for harassment and feared that, if found he might be killed by the police.
Another resident who declined to be identified said she saw the incident and claimed the persons being sought by the police were nowhere near the incident.
When asked about these claims Jacob said while the police would take all leads and possibilities seriously, there were doubts over the credibility of the accounts given by relatives and the residents.
He also called on witnesses to come forward and give their statements to the police who would then deal with the matter.
“If other persons were present we are looking forward for them to come forward and give the statements to the Homicide Bureau because sitting some distance away and making statements where something occurred within a secluded area on the steps heading into the hills, it’s amazing they have seen it and are talking about friendly fire.
“An officer was shot in his neck from the front and we’re talking about friendly fire?”
Gilkes’ death is being investigated as a murder.
Police from the Homicide Bureau of Investigations Region I are continuing enquiries.
The last police officer to die in the line of duty was PC Sherman Maynard, who was shot dead during the 2015 prison break as he was on static (stationary) guard duty outside the Port of Spain Remand Yard.