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ABUSE OF POWER

By Newsday Staff Tuesday, February 14 2012

click on pic to zoom in

Intimidation tactics by the police against Newsday and its senior reporter, Andre Bagoo continued on Sunday night when a marked police vehicle was parked outside Bagoo’s Belmont house for several hours. There were two men in the vehicle and the vehicle’s engine was kept running for the entire time with headlights turned off in a dark area outside the house. Bagoo was not home at the time.

The Sunday night police stakeout at Bagoo’s house came hours after Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs issued a statement defending the actions of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB) last week when nine ACIB officers raided Newsday’s newsroom on Thursday, February 9 searched and seized a computer hard drive and cellphones from Bagoo and then proceeded to his Belmont house where they seized his three laptop computers. The matter is now in the hands of Newsday’s attorneys, who yesterday wrote to Gibbs describing this latest development as an abuse of police power.

Newsday’s lawyers told Gibbs that “the stationing of a marked police car at our client’s home was a transparent attempt to intimidate; an act of petulant retaliation of our client’s singular public criticism of the raid that was effected”.

Lawyers called on Gibbs to investigate: (1) who was responsible for stationing this vehicle at our client’s home, and the reason for so stationing this vehicle. “We expect this information to be provided to us as a matter of urgency.”

“For the avoidance of all possible doubt, we wish to reiterate our understanding that our clients could not be considered suspects in any respect in the ongoing investigation. If this position is incorrect or if it subsequently changes, our clients are prepared to voluntarily surrender themselves in the company of their attorneys at law, full contact information for whom is included at the end of this letter, the lawyers stated.

“We trust that this unequivocal position will forestall any overzealous actions on the part of members of the police service. We expect that this letter will be drawn to the attention of all members of the police service who may be involved in this investigation and will consider any further attempt to furtively accost or intimidate our clients to be an act of malice on your part.

“We reject out of hand the suggestion implicit in your letter to the editor dated 11th February, 2012 that mere possession of a search warrant provides a constitutionally unimpeachable licence for the police to effect a raid at a media house or the home of journalists. The action undertaken was disproportionate in scope and an unprecedented abuse of police power. Our clients demand the immediate return of their seized property and that any copies of documents taken therefrom be destroyed,” the letter concluded.

In his statement of February 11, attempting to justify last week’s raids, Gibbs seemed to be comparing media people to “those individuals and groups who constantly attempt through illegal, unethical and nefarious means, to destroy the very underpinnings and basic tenets of our society.”

“In simple terms, there are the bullies, the manipulators and intimidators. They purposefully initiate violence and maleficence and contrive to attain only for their own self-interest and benefit, usually at the expense of others and society as a whole,” he said.

The raid on Newsday’s office and at Bagoo’s home stirred a huge public outcry last week that condemned the raids. Condemnation came from the Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, politicians, national and regional media associations, media houses and ordinary citizens who all expressed outrage at what was deemed an abuse of the nation’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Press.

The raid at Newsday was the second such abuse in a matter of months, the first being a raid of the TV6 television station by over 20 police officers in search of a video tape of the Crime Watch programme.

The raid at Newsday and Bagoo’s house stemmed from a police investigation requested by the Integrity Commission whose chairman Ken Gordon has always promoted himself as a press freedom fighter and after whom a school of journalism has been named.

Gordon called on police to find out who leaked information to Bagoo contained in a report of a row between Gordon and Deputy Chairman, Gladys Gafoor. In a television interview the morning the report appeared in Newsday, Gordon appearing on a CNC3 television programme confirmed the row. Later the same day, however, he was singing a different tune and announcing a police investigation. It is not known whether members of the commission staff have been investigated by the police. Focus of attention has been on the persecution of Bagoo to reveal his sources which he has refused to do.

The row between Gordon and Gafoor arose from a request by former Attorney General John Jeremie that Gafoor recuse herself from an investigation which the Integrity Commission is conducting with respect to Jeremie’s involvement in a matter concerning former Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls.

Gafoor refused to recuse herself and wrote a letter of complaint to President Max Richards. (See page 15A)

On Thursday, the same day Bagoo’s house and Newsday’s newsroom were raided President Richards announced in a strange development the appointment of a tribunal to investigate Gafoor’s conduct.

Yesterday, Gafoor insisted that she has no intention of resigning as a member of the Integrity Commission.

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