Police urge public: Don’t be too quick to judge cops in Princes Town killing

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this uncredited photo, crime scene investigators are at the site of a police-involved killing in which one suspect was shot dead and two others wounded during a confrontation with police at Cleghorn Village, Princes Town on Friday morning. –

A video of a police officer shooting Everitte Charles, 21, while he was lying face down in the grass next to a crashed car, is only 15 seconds of what actually occurred at Princes Town on Friday, and the public should not be too quick to judge.

So said the head of the Southern Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police Richard Smith, as he responded to the public’s claims of excessive force.

Charles, of Bridge Road, Diego Martin, was killed on Friday and two of his accomplices, including a Special Reserve policeman, were injured in a foiled robbery attempt at Princes Town. A woman at Charles’ home declined comment on Saturday.

One of the suspects was released into police custody on Saturday, while the other is in a serious condition under police guard at the San Fernando General Hospital.

Smith pleaded with members of the public that they need to get all the pieces of the puzzle before jumping to any conclusion.

Both the Police Complaints Authority and Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher said on Friday that independent investigations had been launched after the video was shared on social media.

While criticism is mounting in some quarters, commendation is also coming to the officers now in the line of fire from head of the Police Social Welfare Association ASP Gideon Dickson.

Dickson said, “As the society continues to degenerate into a level of criminality and violence on a daily basis and criminals become more brazen, law enforcement has to strike the balance between the civic-minded citizens and those who are against it.”

In a telephone interview on Saturday, Dickson said the association welcomed any aid to officers, such as body cameras, from which evidence can either be used to clear or convict them.

He said officers leave their homes on a daily basis unsure of what they will encounter out there, but in the midst of all the criticism, often put their lives on the line to secure the country.

“I want to commend my officers who put their lives in harm’s way,” he said, pointing out that he was not at liberty to comment on the incident, as two separate investigations were under way.

The video shows Charles lying face down in the grass as he tried to escape from the getaway car, which crashed into a drain and fence of a private home at Ganpat Trace, Cleghorn Village, Princes Town.

The driver, a Special Reserve policeman assigned to a Port of Spain unit, lost control of the car after ramming into a police Toyota Land Cruiser in an attempt to evade the police.

Approximately nine shots are heard being fired in quick succession, but Smith said not all of the bullets came from the police.

“People hear shots being fired, but not all came from the police. The suspects were also shooting at the police.

“The video is only one piece of the puzzle. People need to have all the pieces before they jump to a conclusion.

“The video did not show the exchange of gunfire before, when the suspects used their vehicle as a weapon and rammed the police vehicle, injuring three officers.

“They would have only been alerted when the getaway car crashed into the fence.”

Smith warned, “When you shoot at the police and put them in harm’s way, expect that they would defend themselves. A firearm is a lethal weapon, meaning it kills.

“We do not revel in killing. We have to preserve lives. But when endangered, we will defend ourselves.”

Smith said the dead man was known to the Western police and had been on their radar for some time.