Heightened security in the capital city since midnight is expected to impact thousands of people today, as one of the main streets leading into downtown Port-of-Spain will be cordoned off to facilitate two high-profile criminal cases.
Police are advising motorists to avoid St Vincent Street completely and find alternative routes such as Dundonald Street, onto Richmond Street or use the Queen’s Park West exit onto Frederick Street.
High-level national security sources said security in and around the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court is expected to be on its highest alert today as four suspects charged with the $15 million drug bust in Westmoorings head to court.
This event will clash with the ongoing criminal case involving a group of men charged with the murder of former Independent Senator Dana Seetahal, as the main witness returns to the witness stand.
A notice issued by the Police Service yesterday advised motorists that there will be no parking, stopping or waiting in vehicles between Gordon Street to Queen Streets—a significant section of St Vincent Street where the courthouse is located—which was in effect from since midnight. There was no information on when the restrictions would be lifted. Traffic flowing east to west along across Duke Street, between St Vincent Street and Pembroke Street, will also be restricted, a senior officer confirmed, although this was not mentioned in the official police notice. (See map)
“Members of the public are urged to follow all instructions and directions given by officers in a bid to ensure everyone’s safety and security. Any inconvenience is regretted,” the notice added.
One senior officer advised citizens to “avoid St Vincent Street at all costs” and suggested that parents park elsewhere and walk their children to their respective schools.
Officers of the Special Operations Response Team, who were instrumental in the drug bust, along with officers of the Organised Crime and Intelligence Unit and other security agencies are expected to provide a security blanket to accompany a convoy of vehicles transporting the seized drugs and suspects to the courthouse at an unannounced time.
Previously, during the hearing of the Seetahal murder enquiry, there had been restrictions on the use of the St Vincent Street, but this time the restrictions have been widened and now encompasses five city blocks from as far up as the Port-of-Spain General Hospital all the way down to the Industrial Court.
The restrictions imposed for the Seetahal murder enquiry on Fridays has caused significant disruption to the flow of traffic into Port-of-Spain in the past but the new restrictions will create even greater disruption.
Head of the Port-of-Spain Division Snr Supt Floris Hodge-Griffith, in a WhatsApp exchange with Guardian Media yesterday, said employees of businesses located along St Vincent Street will be allowed to get past the police barriers once they present their work identification.
“The inconvenience is regretted but we have to do this in the interest of justice...it will end soon,” she stated.
Asked what arrangements have been made to accommodate parents dropping off school children to the seven schools located along the route, Hodge-Griffith said, “There will be some challenges with the temporary implementation but each case will be considered.”
Where will parents be allowed to park to take their children to school?
“There will be heightened police presence in the area of concern to direct traffic and address those issues as they arise,” Hodge-Griffith said.
She said while there would be traffic restrictions across Duke Street, from St Vincent Street to Pembroke Street, motorists can access Abercromby Street heading north.
Strong case against 4 accused
Four people arrested in connection with a $15 million drug bust in the upscale residential district of Westmoorings on Tuesday are due to appear in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court today charged for possession of illegal drugs, cocaine and marijuana with the intent to traffic.
Krystiana Sankar, the former step-daughter of National Security Minister Stuart Young, will face additional charges of possession of a loaded .38 revolver which was recovered from a safe in her bedroom in the Regents Gardens apartment.
Aruba Eligon, Jervon Cole and Yannis Augustine were also charged with possession of the illegal drugs for the purpose of trafficking. The offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if they are found guilty before a judge and jury. They also risk having their assets forfeited to the State under the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act.
A high-level team of officers from the Organised Crime and Intelligence Unit, led by ASP Micheal Veronique, led investigations into the matter and consulted by Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard SC yesterday on the strength of the evidence against the four suspects.
Reports of a fifth suspect, who was arrested away from the scene driving a black BMW, were dismissed by a senior police officer last night. He said there was never a fifth suspect, although photos from the TTPS showed police intercepting a black BMW moments after the drug bust and detaining the driver.
The drug bust resulted from an intelligence-led operation executed by the Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and involved several specialised units in the T&T Police Service with field operations, under the command of Sgt Mark Hernandez, of the Special Operations Response Team, taking down the suspects in a covert mission. Several photos of the operation were released by the TTPS and shared on social media minutes after the incident.
There was, however, no development in another high-profile drug seizure which occurred at Mayfield Road, North Valsayn, on November 25. A total of 600 kilogrammes of marijuana was seized in that operation and nine suspects were arrested. Several of them have since been released from custody and no one has been charged, police confirmed.
Senior officers said that incident was linked to the seizure of a cache of high-powered military-type assault weapons and over $1 million worth of compressed marijuana at Macaya Trace, Munroe Road, Cunupia, on November 9. One man was charged for those offences.
In all of the operations, the Special Operations Response Team were responsible for the successes.