A former officer with the specialised SORT unit of the police service has threatened legal action against the State for her unlawful detention for more than six days after she was held in connection with the deaths of murder suspects Andrew Morris and Joel Balcon in 2021.
Morris and Balcon died while in police custody after they were arrested for the murder of 23-year-old court clerk Andrea Bharatt.
Four SORT officers were among a group of 14 others and six soldiers who were detained by police after Morris and Balcon died. Morris on February 1 and Balcon on February 8. Their autopsies showed they died of blunt force trauma. They were arrested on January 30 and police claimed the men were injured while resisting arrest. Bharatt’s decomposing body was found down a precipice in the Heights of Aripo on February 4. She was last seen getting into a car in Arima on January 29.
One of the SORT officers arrested in connection with Morris’s and Balcon’s deaths was PC Laura Gadar, 32.
She is represented by attorneys Richard Jaggasar, Jagdeo Singh and Karina Singh who said when the two men died, she was “nowhere near them or at the same police station.”
“It is also noteworthy that, to date, no one has been charged with the murder of Andrew Morris nor Joel Balcon and, if given the chance, the State would have kept our client detained for a period exceeding six days,” the letter, which was served on the State on Thursday, said.
Jaggasar said Gadar was the first female officer to reach the rank of Operator 1- Elite Unit 1 and has been a firearm instructor since 2015.
The letter claimed on April 14, 2021, at about 6 am, she was returning from Camp Cumuto when she was arrested by officers of the Professional Standard Bureau, the Maloney Police Station and the Northern Division task force.
She was taken to the Maloney police station and her bio-data information was taken.
The letter said she was left in the charge room for two hours and, for a second time, asked to call her attorney. Jagassar said she never got the call and this refusal amounted to a denial of her right to seek legal advice.
Eventually, two attorneys came to the station after they were told of her arrest by her colleagues. She said she heard a senior officer saying she was a prisoner and “shall not receive any privileges” and ordered she be put in a cell.
“Our client immediately felt embarrassed, shame and shocked.”
She was put in a cell since the police were not ready to interview her until, later that day, she was told the interview would take place the next day.
The letter said she was kept in the unsanitary cell for the night, having to sleep on the cold and dirty concrete floor.
This, the attorneys say, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The next day, she was allowed to shower and was returned to the cell. The letter said she avoided eating or drinking as much as possible to avoid having to use the toilet facility in the cell which was infested with insects and cockroaches.
The letter said she heard officers saying she was not “talking,” and would be “hard to crack,” and she should be pressured into cracking.
“Further, several officers then walked up to the cell and looked in, which made our client feel like she was an animal in a cage being inspected and ogled. These officers continued to say a barrage of disgraceful things including but not limited to “this is what happens when a woman wants to join a ‘man’s unit.’”
The attorney said references made by the officers about her being the “right-hand woman” of the former head of the SORT unit were unfounded and implied Gajar “did not achieve the position she held through her merit but through favouritism and friendship.”
The letter said, the next day, she was finally interviewed and the letter alleged she was mocked by the officers because of her responses which they labelled as her “tune and chorus.”
She was detained for five more days and the letter said officers at the station “used every opportunity to ridicule, embarrass, and degrade her.”
Gajar, the letter added, was also not pointed out during an identification parade. She was released on April 19, without being charged with an offence.
“As a result of the unlawful detention and false imprisonment, our client has suffered loss of reputation,” Jaggasar said.
He also said since her arrest, she has been transferred to a police station and has been barred from promotions pending the investigations into the men’s death.