Acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar has accused individuals of attempting to malign his character after a video surfaced online showing two state-issued assault rifles and bullet-proof vests hanging from a tree at a beach gathering.
The almost four-minute clip which showed the faces of many of the people present was recorded at Chacachacare. The video was shot on May 6.
The video began with the smiling faces of prison and police officers, some of whom were a part of Ramoutar’s security detail, hanging out near coolers of drinks and food. According to the acting commissioner, one civilian was present. It is not clear whether there was alcohol present.
“There are very wicked people in our society and one or two of those wicked people would have wanted to make an issue of the video. All those persons there, those were officers, not civilians. It would have been one person who would have been a civilian who was the driver of the boat,” Ramoutar said.
Meanwhile, Ramoutar defended the decision to have two assault weapons hanging from a tree while doing leisurely activities.
“I am the Commissioner of Prisons. I have access to and accommodation of security in and around me so I have full authority to have security detail, including officers with firearms to see about my protection. So it’s only wicked, unscrupulous people want to make something out of that. There is nothing untoward or wrong that was done in that,” he quipped.
On May 22, two weeks after the gathering at Chacachacare, one of the prison officers who was with Ramoutar had his service-issued firearm stolen at Swallows Beach in Crown Point, Tobago. An internal investigation has been launched into that matter.
Former prisons commissioner Dennis Pulchan, who commented on the video, expressed concern over the footage which he said demonstrated the improper handling of the service-issued weapons.
“As far as I recall, when a prison officer is issued a firearm for a specific duty, he is duty-bound to protect this weapon. The duty involves the use of a firearm so he is required to be on the alert and keep the weapon in his possession as far as practical because the duty of protecting a commissioner is a serious one because of the decisions he makes. His life is sometimes threatened so a weapon with a detail that is protecting the officer should always be in the possession of the officer so assigned,” Pulchan said.
Prison Officers’ Association president Gerard Gordon, also commenting on the issue, said that there ought to be strict adherence to the safety protocols surrounding the possession and use of firearms.
“It is nothing to be treated lightly nor is it something to be shirked at and they must at all times be very cognisant of the fall-out of any misuse, abuse or even an appearance of being slack as it relates to firearm ownership and use certainly will have a resounding deleterious effect for others who are seeking the same facility,” he said.
What the Firearms Act says
- Under section 40 (3) of the Firearms Act, a licensed firearm holder is expected to stow the weapon in a safe place away from children. Section 40 (2) notes that the individual is also expected to lodge their weapon at a police station when leaving the country.
- It should be noted that under the Firearms Act, it is a crime for a person to have a firearm with him while drunk or under the influence of drugs. If found guilty, that individual faces a $20,000 fine and imprisonment for two years.
TTPS: 21 firearms reported stolen so far for 2023
According to the T&T Police Service (TTPS), so far this year 21 firearms have been reported stolen. Two belonged to the Ministry of National Security (MNS) and were Firearms Users Licence (FUL) holders, seven were Estate Police Firearms Users Employee Certificate holders, and nine were civilian FUL holders who lost two shotguns and one rifle.
Last year, 20 firearms were reported lost or stolen. One was under the MNS, three belonged to Estate Police Constables, and 12 were owned by civilians.
The footage involving the Prisons Commissioner comes amid a lockdown of the Teteron Barracks in Chaguaramas over a Galil rifle that went missing on Sunday. A $75,000 reward is being offered by the Ministry of National Security for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the disappearance of the weapon.
No response from National Security Minister
Guardian Media contacted National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds for comment, however, there was no response up to the time of publication.