Trinidad-Mixed views after viral video shows officers assaulting disabled man
PORT OF SPAIN – While two Special Reserve Police officers are being investigated for assaulting a wheelchair-bound man in San Fernando, those who witnessed the incident are supporting the officers’ actions.
Workers along lower High Street told the T&T Guardian that around 4 pm Saturday, the man was begging for money and hurling disrespectful and racist remarks to passers-by before he was pushed and slapped by male and female officers assigned to the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) at the Mon Repos Police Station.
Superintendent Cecil Santana said an investigation was launched after a video of the incident was posted on Facebook. Up to yesterday, both officers remained on the job, while the man, who has an address in Gasparillo, was yet to be interviewed and has not reported the incident.
“The two officers have been identified and an investigation has been launched by the Professional Standards Bureau on instructions from the acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams. We are treating it seriously and we can assure that no stone will be left unturned and the appropriate action will be taken,” Santana said.
Lennox Andrews, a shoe repairman, recalled the incident.
“Police did not advantage him. He looked for that.”
Andrews said that after noticing the man disrespecting female workers of Chicken Unlimited, a nearby restaurant, he tried to calm the man, but he too began receiving insults.
He said the same man was also slapped by a pedestrian earlier in the day for insulting someone.
“He was on his wheelchair begging for money and people were giving it to him. He started being disrespectful. Those girls at Chicken Unlimited gave him money and he was pelting it back at them. When the police came, he called them names and he spat on them.
“I even talked to him before and told him to behave himself. He was drunk. He started calling me names too. I didn’t want to get myself into trouble so I walked off,” Andrews said.
Staff at Chicken Unlimited confirmed the incident, saying they were throwing out garbage when the man asked for fish broth and threw money at them.
One worker said: “He shouted, ‘Hello, hello, Miss Lady, it have fish broth?’ We told him no, it finished and he start throwing money at us and telling us all kinds of things. There were police at the bottom of High Street and they came up.”
Dave Fairley, who works at a nearby clothing store, said the man in the wheelchair was being rude to passers-by as well.
“I asked him why he was getting on so and he started to tell me all kinds of things too,” Fairley said.
Whether or not the victim was wrong, the officers should have maintained their professionalism, secretary of the Police Social Welfare Association Insp Michael Seales said yesterday.
Seales said the association welcomed an investigation, but hopes that all factors would be considered.
Seales said: “The association will always be mindful that an investigation will reveal all the facts. A policeman or police woman do not have the luxury of acting unprofessionally regardless of the circumstances they are faced with.
“It may be negative or undesirable, but at the end of the day, they must maintain professionalism even though a person may be breaking the law. You are not allowed to strike out at that person. Even if you have to strike out at the person, the law provides for you to use a baton, that way you are covered, but for you to use an open hand and slap a person or use a fist to cuff someone, it is a no-no.”
Seales said the video has already shown the officers in “bad light” as the man was in a wheel chair. He said the man could have been mentally challenged as well.
He reminded officers of their sworn oath to act without malice, ill-will or favour and urged them to guard against their emotions clouding their judgment.
Seales said the man could have been arrested and charged as spitting is considered as battery and insulting language was against the law.
San Fernando mayor Kazim Hosein said this council was saddened after watching the video, but called on citizens not to let the isolated incident affect their relationship with police.
In a release yesterday, Hosein said, “The police are there to protect and to serve. It will be reasonable if that protection from violence and crime be expected from all police officers. This isolated and unfortunate incident needs to be further investigated, especially when any officer appears to treat any citizen in a manner in which they should not, as we have been seeing in other parts of the world today.
“We are grateful for the hard work of the many disciplined police officers and are urging all officers to continue engaging in best practice in carrying out their duties.”