What is it with PNM big boys and police stations?
Three incidents come to mind. In 1962, then Minister of Home Affairs, Patrick Solomon went into the Woodbrook Police Station and removed his stepson who was under arrest.
In 2002, then Prime Minister Patrick Manning called the Marabella Police Station enquiring about his former driver who was arrested by the police.
In 2016, Minister of Works and Transport Fitzgerald Hinds reportedly went to the Belmont Police Station enquiring why the police had locked up Jerome Henry after Henry’s five-year-old son Josiah had drowned days before in the East Dry River.
Let us look at the three incidents:
In 1964, the Trinidad and Tobago Government set up a commission of enquiry into the Police Force. The Trinidad Guardian of September 10 that year reported that at the previous day’s sitting, Corporal Oscar Frederick, the Police Association Secretary, had presented a memorandum purporting to provide evidence that the Ministry of Home Affairs (now Ministry of National Security) had interfered in the mandate of the Police Commissioner.
The memorandum stated that in the early morning of January 28, 1964, a Woodbrook resident, Michael Beausoleil, was arrested by PC Learie Patterson, taken to the Woodbrook Police Station and charged with using obscene language and throwing missiles. He was placed in a cell. Shortly thereafter, the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Solomon, arrived at the station, spoke to Beausoleil, then instructed that the charges against him be cancelled.
The policeman in charge said he had no power to do so. Dr Solomon was reported to have replied that he would be taking Beausoleil with him and would speak to the Police Commissioner later that day. And off they both went. No further word of the charges was heard.
But that was not the end of the matter. The then Commissioner of Police brought undue pressure upon PC Patterson, who was forced to leave the Police Force and migrate to Canada, where he still lives. Patterson decided to flee because he could not get another job in Trinidad because of the undue pressure.
Patterson settled into Canada and worked in the medical field until he retired several years ago.
Frederick’s memorandum was made public on September 9, 1964. That evening the Opposition, at a large and enthusiastic Woodford Square meeting, called for the resignation of Solomon and the government. Solomon resigned from the Cabinet on September 14. In his letter accepting the resignation, then Prime Minister Eric Williams said in part that he “(could) not agree that the procedure at the Station that you thought best to follow was the correct one”.
On September 20, under immense pressure from Solomon’s constituents and some People’s National Movement (PNM) elders, Williams retreated, telling a huge crowd in Arima that Solomon was “one of the great men in the PNM” and that it was a pity he had had to resign.
But he, Williams, had power under the Constitution. He, therefore “(proposed) to use Solomon when and where (he pleased), and those who (did) not like it (could)…” The Guardian reported that the rest of his remarks were drowned out by deafening applause. (That Williams line, for those who don’t know, was the inspiration for Sparrow’s calypso “I am going to bring back Solomon”. Further, if you think that Williams had no advance knowledge of Corporal Frederick’s memorandum, well, you should feel free to hold on to your innocence.)
On April 12, 2002, while he was Prime Minister, Manning telephoned the Marabella Police Station enquiring about a suspect. That suspect was his former driver, whom he used while he was Leader of the Opposition.
But then president of the Police Welfare Association, Sgt Christopher Holder, said the prime minister was dead wrong to call the station.
Holder said Manning’s concern should have been directed to the Commissioner of Police.
“Officers should never compromise the integrity of any investigation by virtue of the status of any individual in society,” Holder said.
He added that “the same principles of the oath of office to perform duties without fear, favour, malice or ill-will, shall apply to the Prime Minister right down to the vagrant in the street, because no one is above the law”.
Though then Commissioner of Police Hilton Guy said he had no recollection of any Prime Minister ever telephoning a police station in such circumstances before, he added that he didn’t think Manning’s action was irregular.
“What I’d say (is) it might have been preferable if the Prime Minister had called either the Commissioner or (acted) through the Minister of National Security,” he told reporters at a media conference at his Port of Spain office.
Asked if he would describe the move as being improper, Guy said: “I am not going to use the word improper.”
But moments later in response to a question on whether it was legal for a public official, including a Prime Minister, to call a station to make such enquiries, Guy said: “There is no law against it. One might very well say that would be improper.”
Earlier, Guy said the suspect a former driver of Manning, had been released more than 16 hours before Manning’s call to the station.
He said the man was detained by police on April 10 for an offence allegedly committed in December 2001. He was due to go on an identification parade on April 11 but the parade did not take place and he was released at 1.45 p.m. that day. Guy added that Manning called the station at 6 a.m. the next day.
Asked to comment on a situation in 1962 when former PNM Home Affairs Minister Dr Patrick Solomon went to a police station to release a relative, Guy said the two incidents were not the same.
In what capacity did Works and Transport Minister Fitzgerald Hinds visit the Belmont Police Station after Jerome Henry’s arrest?
Henry, the father of Josiah Henry, the five-year-old who drowned in a drain near his Belmont home, was charged with negligently causing cruelty to the child and his seven-year-old sister by exposing them to danger after leaving them at home alone.
Hinds is an MP and Cabinet Minister and could not have been there as an Attorney-at-Law, wrote Capil Bissoon in a letter to the editors of all newspapers.
“I do sympathise with what Hinds was advocating; the police had a duty to investigate the incident but a softer approach should have been taken with the grieving father.
“But I do not agree with a Cabinet Minister entering a Police Station and advocating for the release of a citizen who has been charged (rightly or wrongly) by the Police.”
Henry was charged under Section 4 of the Children’s Act and he will be given every opportunity to defend the charge when he has his day in Court.
Bissoon added, “But for Hinds to actually enter the Police Station and advocate his release would have clearly sent a subtle message to the duty officers at the Police Station. Hinds had no right to attempt to question the actions of the Police; that is for the Court to do. His mere presence would have been somewhat intimidating to them.
“We are not living in a banana republic where politicians are above the law. Is this a part of the PNM’s culture and privilege?
“We have had similar situations in the past.
Earlier this year, David West, Director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), was criticised for visiting a police station where his brother-in-law was being charged. West tried to justify his unprofessional and reckless behavior by saying that he was there in his “personal capacity” but the perception here was that the Director of the PCA exercised poor judgement and the officers at that station would have been known that his very presence was inappropriate and could have compromised their execution of their legal responsibilities.
Despite calls for West to step down, he is still the Director and now advocating for an amendment to the PCA Act, seeking more power and authority.
Bissoon said if Hinds was a PPG Minister, the PNM would have been screaming for him to be fired.”