DPP orders cops to release 4 SSA suspects

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former SSA director Roger Best –

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, on May 18, ordered the release of four people detained by police, including the now-sacked director of the Strategic Services Agency, (SSA) Major Roger Best.

Sources said officers of the Professional Standards Bureau met with Gaspard, who reviewed their file and gave certain instructions. Police now have to complete further investigations before consulting with the DPP on whether they have sufficient evidence to support criminal charges against the four.

Best was arrested on May 16 and was fired by acting President Nigel de Freitas on May 18, while still in police custody.

According to a release from the Ministry of National Security, the Cabinet met on May 18 and decided to advise the acting President to terminate Best with immediate effect.

Also detained were pastor Ian Brown, a former special reserve officer assigned to the SSA, former security supervisor Portell Griffith and Sgt Sherwin Waldron, formerly assigned to the Special Operations Response Team.

In early March, the Prime Minister, as head of the National Security Council, recalled retired Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer, ambassador to Washington, DC, to replace Best.

Dr Rowley announced Best’s suspension shortly after returning from a trip to Washington, where he met with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other top US intelligence officials. Rowley cited an impending threat to national security as the reason for the decision.

In mid-March, Brown was dismissed as a special reserve police officer by Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher.

Thursday’s arrests followed a two-and-a-half-month-long investigation into a wide range of allegations against SSA agents and a series of interviews, including one with former commissioner of police Gary Griffith.

Simultaneous searches were carried out at the homes of Best and the others shortly after. Warrants, signed off by a High Court master, allowed investigators to search for electronic devices for interrogation by the police service’s cyber and social media unit of any communications data and stored data.

Best faces a possible charge of possession of an automatic rifle – an MP5K Heckler and Koch automatic submachine gun, in contravention of the Firearm Act and possibly misbehaviour in public office for transferring two Sig Sauer MPX guns and two Sig Sauer 516 rifles with optic and an assortment of ammunition.

Sources told Newsday on May 17 that Best and the others were questioned on the transfer of the weapons from the police to the SSA.

On May 18, more interviews were done. Sources say investigators have in their arsenal message books on the assignment of the weapons.

Newsday has also seen a document dated April 29, 2021, addressed to Best from the now-defunct Special Operations Response Team of the police, on the “loan of TTPS firearms and ammunition” for two Sig Sauer MPX firearms and two Sig Sauer 516 rifles, along with three magazines and 90 rounds of ammunition each.

Permission was given for the guns and ammunition to be temporarily assigned for official use to six named officers attached to the SSA guard unit at the Cumuto Army barracks, Wallerfield, with effect from April 29, 2021. Only those officers on the list were to be issued the firearms and ammunition. Brown was one of the six named on the list.

At a media briefing in March, the Prime Minister expressed surprise that Brown was armed with a police-issued weapon.

“These are not things that are supposed to happen. The SSA did not have the authority to have armed officers until November of last year, when Cabinet approved that after a number of requests.”

Brown returned the weapons assigned to him after he was fired.

In April, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds also spoke on the issue of the guns the SSA used before 2023.

He said before Cabinet approval, firearm user’s licences would have been issued, in the case of the SSA, “largely for guard duties of SSA properties and equipment, quite different from keep-and-carry personal firearms…we have now been told…that officers of the SSA were allowed, long before November 1, to keep and carry weapons. Hence the reason for the Prime Minister’s expression of surprise.”

Hinds referred to the Firearms Act, which said certain categories of people did not need to be licensed to carry firearms, including the police, SRPs, and firearm users’ employees certificates (FUEC) holders, like security companies and the SSA.

“We are discovering now that the SSA was armed, heavily armed, well-armed, well before that time.”

In November 2023, the SSA became legally allowed to carry guns after the proclamation of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 2022. The amendment to the law allows the SSA director and those appointed by the officeholder to bear firearms during the execution of their duties.

Before that, for SSA members to have guns, they would have to have been made an SRP or apply for a firearm user’s licence (FUL) privately.