Focus on soldier – police search army base in Pennywise robbery probe

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Constable Arvin Boodram shows Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob one of the AR15 assault rifles used by the bandits in Tuesday’s failed Pennywise robbery. The weapons were displayed on Wednesday
at the La Romaine Police Post. – ROGER JACOB

The man who claimed bandits robbed him at gunpoint in La Romaine and used his Nissan X-Trail van to try to escape the police after Monday’s deadly heist is now in custody as a “person of interest.”

The suspect is a TT Regiment member based at Camp Serrette (Second Infantry Battalion) at the M2 Ring Road in La Romaine. He is a private in his 20s who lives in the Fyzabad area.

The police also detained two other suspects, from Arouca, in connection with the robbery and subsequent “carjacking” outside La Romaine Plaza that left two security dead, one hospitalised, one discharged, and a child with injuries.

The police said the “young soldier” reported that he was looking for “a place to tint his van” and made a wrong turn. The wrong turn was into a new housing settlement across the road from his workplace. He reported that gunmen in a white car blocked the road and ordered him out of his white van.

The gunmen abandoned and burnt the car at the roadside along the M2 Ring Road, then left in his van.

Newsday learned that the police also searched the soldier’s locker at the camp.

Senior police confirmed that apart from the three detained men, no one else was in custody up to Tuesday evening, contrary to social media reports.

A senior policeman told Newsday, “We cannot say where these stories are coming from. We do not have information about him training anyone. We do not have a female in custody. People are saying all sorts of things.”

About an hour before the “carjacking,” five men ambushed and shot at an unarmored van with three security officers employed with Allied Security Ltd, hitting them. Jeffery Peters, 51, and Jerry “Bat” Stuart, 49, died, while their colleague Peola Baptiste, 57, is critical in hospital. They were transporting money.

The police said Allister Harris, 47, who works with Phoenix Protective Services at the plaza, was also hit. He received minor injuries and was treated and discharged on Monday.

A nine-year-old child from the Siparia was also grazed, the police reported. His injuries are not life-threatening.

In full view of drivers and customers at the plaza, the gunmen left with bags containing undisclosed cash.

It was while fleeing that they met the soldier and changed vehicles.

But the police, hot on their heels, caught up with them in a street off Pond Street. The gunmen abandoned the van, ran through a track, and jumped over a wall into a property of a retired probation officer, Ann-Marie Elbourne-County.

The certified mediation practitioner and her family, including two children, locked themselves inside. Moments later, the police responded.

The gunmen began shooting at the police, who returned fire, hitting four.

From left, Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob, La Romain resident Ann-Marie Elbourne-County, and police victims support unit officers Bernadette Sealey and Ayanna Phillip at Elbourne-County’s home on Tuesday. – ROGER JACOB

The injured men were taken to the San Fernando General Hospital, where a DMO declared them dead on arrival at 6.05 pm.

The police identified them as Kyle and his brother Keyon “Bush” Ramdhan of Delhi Road, Greg Dodough, and Deaundre “Monty” Montrose, all of Fyzabad.

The police recovered two loaded pistols at the scene.

The police also searched a nearby overgrown area and found two A-R 15 rifles, two bulletproof vests, a pair of boots, and an empty magazine. The police confirmed that some money was recovered but did not give an amount.

On Tuesday, the acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob, together with acting Snr Supt Smith, Insp Phillip, and other police from the Southern Division, showed the media weapons and other items the bandits used.

Jacob assured the public that the police have different methods and strategies to deal with incidents like the heist in a commercial space.

The compound houses several other businesses like Rattans and a baby store apart from Pennywise Super Centre.

He said the police are working hand in hand with the business community.

He said many people in leadership positions, who have access to all media, make negative comments about the police and their ability to handle situations.

Jacob said, “Be responsible. It is creating negativity on the ground and they think the police are weak. There are innocent people who are being injured and killed because of these activities.”

Jacob told reporters that he spoke to representatives from the Estate Police Association about suggestions for security companies to upgrade the type of vehicles they are using to transport money.

“Several security companies are properly equipped to carry out these activities. This will put an unnecessary burden on the police service,” Jacob said.

“If one security company has required security vehicles and others do not, they can work out a contract and assist each other. Our patrols will pay attention if they are transporting and taking money to the bank.”

Jacob later visited Elbourne-County’s home and she recounted what happened. She said the family was deeply traumatised.

“I take adversities, and I grin on them,” she said, standing next to Jacob.

She said she felt comfortable when police responded to her home on Monday evening. She complimented them, saying they were strategic and professional.

“I take this opportunity to thank all police who were here and my community because we are close-knit. I felt ultimately safe when I saw the police. That is when I knew I was not so good before their arrival. Last night I could not sleep,” she said.

Police from the police’s social victim and support unit also visited the family to offer counselling.

“I feel for young people. I do not excuse their behaviour. But I often think about what I can do to reach my young people. I have children and grandchildren to leave in this society,” she said.

Pennywise Plaza was closed to the public and when Newsday visited on Tuesday, workers were seen cleaning the compound.

Investigations are ongoing.