(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — Special Operations Response Team (SORT) police officers raided seven mansions in the posh residential community of Gulf View, La Romaine, yesterday, breaking down doors and preventing homeowners from entering their premises.
The raids prompted cries of political victimisation, racial discrimination and victimisation by homeowners who called on Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to issue a statement.
However, senior sources said one man who was hiding on one of the properties during the raids was arrested.
The first raid took place at 5.50 am at the Penny Avenue home of Simone Alexander, the owner of Allied Home Industries Limited. After two hours officers left empty-handed, but they continued raids in townhouses and mansions belonging to other business owners, including SM Jaleel and Company CEO Aleem Mohammed.
Retired oil worker Ravi Dinanath said he got up as usual for his morning walk when he saw the police at Alexander’s home. The street had been blocked off and Dinanath said he took a detour and continued on his business thinking the police were doing their duties. “I had no idea they would come to my home next. Sometime later, when I walked back to my yard, I saw about a dozen police in the back. They did not allow me to enter the property. The police had face masks and goggles. I never imagined anything like this would ever happen to me,” Dinanath said.
He added that it was only when media cameras arrived he was allowed back into the house. Dinanath said his wife Lelawatee was held at gunpoint in a room and she began suffering an asthma attack. “The police were aggressive and they asked for my son who was at work. They never showed a warrant. They never explained what they wanted with him. It is unfair that I worked so hard and now in my retirement, I cannot enjoy my life,” Dinanath said.
Asked whether he planned to take legal action, Dinanath said he had no money to hire a lawyer.
Sources close to the investigation explained to Guardian Media that they had received information about a high-risk suspect in the area and during one of their searches a man who was found hiding was taken into custody
The senior source explained that in this instance, if you are pursuing a suspect there is no need to obtain a warrant to enter premises where the subject is suspected to be hiding.
The source also explained that an informant indicated that a suspicious package had been dropped off at a home in Gulf View on Thursday night and the searches were also connected to this incident.
The informant, who was not too familiar with the area, gave them a description of a house of a particular colour, but officers were still not successful in finding the house—although they entered homes that were of similar colour and design.
Meanwhile, Suresh Ramdhan, owner of Gopauls Electronics and Princess Cosmetics, claimed his home was raided without a warrant. Saying the raids were a political witch hunt, Ramdhan said he was appalled that the police would break down doors and raid the premises of law-abiding citizens. Ramdhan, of Seaview Parkway, said he was not at home when the police arrived and ordered his sister-in-law to open the house.
Ramdhan said he has been doing business in San Fernando for over 40 years. “I am a hard-working man and I feel as if my right to privacy and enjoyment of my property has been infringed,” Ramdhan told Guardian Media.
“People are looking at me as if I am a criminal. The police treated me as if I am a criminal. It is traumatising for me and my family.”
The businessman said he did not know if his home was now bugged and if the police had planted surveillance devices in his premises. He also claimed the police used a sledgehammer and broke down the front doors of a house owned by a retired Naparima Girls’ High School teacher Minty Ishmael.
Ishmael lives in a senior citizen home and her daughter comes to the premises regularly to clean it. Ramdhan said Ishmael’s home was left unsecured by the police after their search.
Residents said the raids were not organised and seemed to be a “botched exercise,” as the police seemed unclear and uncertain about what they were doing.
Up to 2 pm, residents were seen sitting outside on their balconies and patios as police officers made constant patrols.
Commissioner Griffith yesterday referred all questions to his communications department.