Trinidad: Homeless men to sue state

Trinidad: Homeless men to sue state
Attorney Kelston Pope, right, as he spoke to Moses Phillip, centre, and Malcolm Salvary in Port of Spain on Friday. - SUREASH CHOLAI
Attorney Kelston Pope, right, as he spoke to Moses Phillip, centre, and Malcolm Salvary in Port of Spain on Friday. – SUREASH CHOLAI

(TRINIDAD NEWSDAY) – TWO out of three men who were given alcohol to drink by police and soldiers last week will be suing the State, after speaking with their attorney Kelston Pope on Friday.

Newsday met with the men while Pope chatted with them on George Street, Port of Spain.

Moses Phillip, who was originally identified as Dennis Moses, and his friend Malcolm Salvary, 53, who is also socially displaced, described to Pope the night they were made to feel less than human.

The previous Sunday, the night the first stay-at-home restrictions came into effect, army and police officers on patrol saw Phillip on George Street. They videotaped him as they forced him at gunpoint to drink puncheon rum, do pushups and race their vehicle up the street.

Pope promised that by the end of the week, the Attorney General will be served with a pre-action protocol letter about the treatment of his clients.

A third man who was recorded by the lawmen has not been found.

When he was first interviewed last Tuesday, Phillip gave his name as Moses Phillip. But at the end of a second interview that day he said twice that his name was Dennis Moses. He said he had lost all his documentation so there was no way of verifying the information.

On Friday he insisted his name is Moses “Sunny” Phillip.

Phillip said since Newsday published an article about him last Wednesday, he has seen regular police patrols, and had spoken with members of the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) about the assault.

“After the article I gave a statement. (Police Commissioner) Gary Griffith sent two fellas. They came for information concerning the incident. I told them what take place and they write to suit. They say Gary Griffith send them to do an investigation to deal with the matter.”

At a media briefing last Wednesday, Griffith said: “The Chief of Defence staff is my batch and he will deal with those two clowns (the army officers involved).

“But everyone is speaking about the police service, and as I said, those two officers should not wear uniforms, because they had a right to stop it.

“But it was a soldier who pointed the weapon and gave the instructions.”

The two police officers involved were identified and questioned last week. The Defence Force is yet to comment on whether the soldiers were identified and what action will be taken over their role in the incident.

Last Tuesday Phillip said he was with another man who dived to the ground on seeing the police approaching, and he did similarly. That man was Salvary, who recalled what happened to him.

Salvary, who was not recorded by the soldiers as they made him drink a bottle of puncheon in one go, said he was the first to get a taste of the lawmen’s abuse.

“I went out to get something to eat. While walking down the road I see this short man here (pointing at Phillip.) We was walking and talking, and when I see the police I lie down on the ground.”

Salvary said he did this because he is accustomed to being beaten by police.

“They came to me and asked why I lie down and I said, ‘Boss, I doh want to get lash.’

“They said, ‘Nah, all you have to do is drink that’ – and they hand me a bottle of rum – ‘and yuh going yuh way.’

“I say, ‘Boss, I does not drink alcohol because I suffer a stroke, so I doh take no strong drink and thing.’
“Hear him: ‘Nah, is either yuh want to get lock up or you drink it.’

“So I say, ‘Give me it.’”

After drinking about half the bottle without stopping, Salvary, the father of two, said he began vomiting and was spared further abuse as a result, as one of the four officers in the vehicle said he could not handle the alcohol.

“They crack the gun and tell me to run, but I was feeling dizzy so I didn’t run, I walk away.

“While I walking I see they give he (Phillip) a bottle and tell he drink too.

“I sleep out the whole day the next day (Monday). Is the following day (Tuesday) I see he and he tell me what happened…

“He tell me how the media come and talk to him, and I went by Besson Street Station to make a report and they run me from the station and say, ‘Doh come back.’”

Unlike Phillip, Salvary lives at the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons at Riverside Plaza. Phillip sleeps on an open piece of land on George Street.

Asked how he felt about what happened to him, Salvary said: “I not feel good. I not feel safe at all.
“The police supposed to protect me, right?

“They moving with the army men. The army was higher than the police until it come to the 70s when it had the uprising, so the police in charge. I find like the police have no say again, then, because if they see a army man giving me something to drink and I telling them I doh drink and thing, them supposed to stand up and say something about it, because them in charge.

“Them is supposed to protect and serve, but me ain’t getting no protection. I fear for my life, because anything could happen to me.

“Doh matter if I living on the streets, I is a human being still. I doh like that.”

Their lawyer echoed their sentiments, saying a good Samaritan led him to the two.

“Based on what they told me, it seems almost certain that we will be pursuing legal action.

“Both of them said in the point in time they both didn’t like it. Notwithstanding you would have seen a video come out after (with Phillip saying that the officers were ‘his boys’), you have to remember, with homeless people, they are quite vulnerable and sometimes may not know their rights and think that something is ok.

“Of course behaviour like that is never ok, be it a homeless person or a regular citizen. That type of behaviour should be strongly condemned.

“Within the next couple days we will expect that a pre-action protocol letter will be sent to the Attorney General regarding the conduct of both the police and defence force.”

Life on the streets

Salvary’s journey to living on the streets is a story straight out of a movie.

He grew up in Sangre Grande with his father and four younger sisters, and ran away from home at 14, tired of being lamed by his father for things his sisters had done. He hoped to find his mother, knowing only her name and the area where she lived in Laventille.

He met her for the first time when he was jailed at 26.

“How I end up on the streets?
“My mother was living Beverly Hills and I was living Sangre Grande. I was always asking to see my mother.

“I only get to see my mother when I reach 26 years. It so happened I get a break-and-enter case and I meet one of my cousin in the same cell. When he hear my name, Salvary, he say he name Salvary too and ask who is my mother.

“I say, ‘Irma Salvary.’

“He say, ‘Your mother is my aunt.’

“He get bail the same day and went and tell my mother.

“The next day she come and look for me and take me out of prison and that is how I get to know my mother and I was 26 years.”

Salvary said he normally transporst good for vendors to earn a living, but with many of the vendors not selling, his income has all but dried up.

Phillip, who has a large bump on his right temple, said he got it in an accident years ago.

“This is fatty tissue,” he said, poking the bump to show it is soft to the touch. “I was intoxicated. I went through the windshield.

“I was in ICU for three months and spend about a year in hospital. I don’t know what happened to the driver.”

After Phillip’s story appeared, some people argued that he was an alcoholic. Asked about this, he said: “Don’t study people. If I accustomed drinking my rum – I don’t drink so much alcohol, because I know the consequences of alcohol. It could damage your liver, damage your lungs and other tissues in your body.

“People feel they could teach rum a lesson. You can’t teach rum a lesson. It could teach you a lesson.

“That is why they say don’t drink and drive, and when you drinking, drink responsibly where you could know yourself and don’t ‘congest’ (ingest) what you can’t handle. Because if you go over the limit it have consequences.”

Phillip, the father of a 14-year-old son, added that he “grew up tough.”

He was one of a family of 17 children in Mayaro. After neighbours called the authorities, he and two sisters were sent to the Emmanuel Community, a home in Belmont. There he was adopted by a staff member, Marjorie Jones, and her husband Norman at 12, after being there for nine years.

His mother, an alcoholic, often left her children unattended for days at a time as she searched for a drink, wherever possible, for whatever price.

“We living in a serious time. Is a dog-eat-dog world,” Phillip said.


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