PCA: Suspects in Andrea Bharatt murder were tortured

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

DEAD SUSPECT: Andrew Morris. –

THE Police Complaints Authority (PCA) says its investigation into the arrests of the suspects in the Andrea Bharatt murder, and the subsequent deaths of two while in police custody, revealed that the suspects were tortured.

On its Facebook page on Friday, the PCA published a summary of its criminal referrals to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

“The evidence gathered by the PCA revealed that all of the suspects detained were the subject of torture and two suspects were subjects to acts of violence which culminated in their deaths.”

The PCA said its findings were assimilated into a report on the conduct of the police service, the Special Operations Response Team (SORT), and the National Security Special Operations Group and forwarded to the DPP. The details of the report were also sent to the acting Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister of National Security.

Bharatt, 22, was reported missing after she got into a car, which she believed to be a taxi, at King Street, Arima on January 29. The court clerk’s body was found almost a week later down a precipice in The Heights of Aripo.

Her murder triggered several marches and vigils as the nation cried out in solidarity against violent crimes against women.

Four men, including Joel Balcon and Andrew Morris, and a woman were detained for questioning.

Morris, a 36-year-old hypertensive diabetic, died on February 4.

DEAD SUSPECT: Joel Balcon. –

Balcon, who had 70 charges against him between 2004 and 2017, died on February 10 after being hospitalised.

Police said when they went to Morris’ Tumpuna Road home, he had to be subdued because he was acting violently. They said he fell during their attempt to subdue him, and officers were also injured.

Police said he was offered medical attention, but refused. He was eventually taken to the Arima hospital. Police said Morris fell while seated on a chair and had to be assisted. He was taken to another room to give a urine sample and allegedly fell again. He subsequently died.

Balcon, who was detained in a separate exercise, also allegedly suffered injuries during his arrest. He fell into a coma shortly after he was held by police and later died at the Eric Williams Medical Science Complex.

An autopsy report said Morris and Balcon suffered blunt force trauma to the head and body.

Four SORT officers were detained and 20 officers were investigated by the Professional Standards Bureau. Fourteen of the 20 were police officers, and others are members of the Defence Force.

Negus George, 24, of Gooding Trace, Malabar, Arima was charged with murdering Bharatt while his 37-year-old common-law wife Giselle Hobson was charged with receiving stolen items belonging to Bharatt.

Newsday reached out to Balcon’s relatives who said they were still dealing with his death.

“My family is nowhere near ready to speak out publicly on anything,” one said.

However, the relative said family members were aware of the findings as the PCA was in constant contact.

Newsday also attempted to reach Morris’ relatives but was unsuccessful.

The summaries published by the PCA included a complaint by a civilian of being threatened by a police officer, an investigation into a fatal police-involved shooting, multiple beatings, and accusations of theft.

The PCA it closed 77 investigations during the period July 1 to September 30.

It said 55 cases were closed owing to a lack of evidence of criminal conduct or misconduct by police, eight were closed because complainants did not follow up with investigators, 16 were closed because complainants chose to discontinue their complaint, one was discontinued because the officer under investigation went into retirement, and another because the officer was already the subject of criminal proceedings.

PCA Director David West told Newsday it will be releasing summaries on a quarterly basis.

“This is a new method being used, because people have said in the past that they don’t know what we do in terms of outcomes. So we are trying to educate the public that these are the investigations that have taken place.”

West added that while the workload has been consistent, investigators have been able to do several investigations which have progressed to the point of their findings and suggestions being forwarded to the DPP.

“We have managed to do the work and we will continue to do it.”

On the deaths of Balcon and Morris, West said the PCA has done its part.

“We have fulfilled our remit. We have investigated the matter and made our recommendations. So it is now up to the DPP, Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff and Ministry of National Security to deal with the matter.”