By Anika Gumbs-Sandiford
September 18, 2011 – guardian.co.tt
Back off! This is the strong message being sent by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard to “office holders” regarding the arrest of citizens under the state of emergency. Warning that he would “continue to jealously guard his office at all cost,” Gaspard, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Guardian, said his office would continue to act independently. On the Attorney General’s decision to retain a battery of attorneys to assist with the prosecution of matters under the state of emergency, Gaspard said: “No other office holder would be allowed to choose any attorney for me for the prosecution of any matter; that choice remains exclusively mine.” On the issue of the perception of a war between the AG and the DPP, Gaspard said: “I know of no war between the AG and myself. There are no winners in war. I humbly prefer simply to continue to do my work soberly so as to protect and advance the public’s interest.”
Dismissing claims that the release of 21 Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain residents was due to witnesses being afraid to testify, Gaspard said no such statements existed on the file perused by him. “The file that I would have perused involving the 21 men who were subsequently released contained no evidence of gang-related activity since the coming into force of the Anti Gang Act. “Further, I would also have seen two sets of CCTV footage which pertained to incidents prior to the proclamation of the Act. Those incidents could not assist me. “I am not aware of the existence of any such statements. Having perused the file I am not aware that the reason why the State could not go forward with the matters was because of witnesses being afraid to testify.
The DPP added: “When I looked at the file I did not see any statement from any witness who subsequently became afraid to give evidence; the file has nothing about any witnesses being afraid to give evidence. “The reason why the State could not go forward was because of the sheer lack of evidence. I do not know if they have knowledge that I do not have,” an outspoken Gaspard said. Police sources said the file contained statements from the police complainant, an Anti Gang expert, and the Crime and Problem Analysis (CAPA) Police Unit—a department responsible for profiling people detainees.
Pointing out that the Anti Gang Act 2011 came into effect on August 15, Gaspard said people with pending gang-related matters could not be prosecuted for offences prior to the Act being implemented. The timeframe of the CCTV footage released last week was in January and March—approximately five months before the Act was passed. “I saw the video footage before I made my decision. It would have been unfair to allow those persons to remain in custody in those circumstances. It would have amounted to a complete and regrettable abdication of my role as DPP,” Gaspard said.
It was only last week, secretary of the Police Service Social and Welfare Association Sgt Michael Seales claimed that the association received complaints from its members that “questionable instructions” were given by senior officers regarding detention. Describing the questionable instructions as “unacceptable”, Seales said: “Members said they were given instructions to detain and the evidence would come later.”