Residents of Layou say they neither feel “protected nor served” by the police following an incident which saw a member of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) pulling a man into the back of a pick-up truck by his hair, right before discharging his weapon in the air, over a small crowd.
A video of the incident began making the rounds on social media yesterday, just hours after it occurred near Texier Road in the Central Leeward town, where a small crowd had gathered to dance in the streets.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, residents would have been preparing to head to Kingstown in the wee hours of yesterday morning for J’Ouvert, marking the beginning of Carnival Monday festivities.
Residents of the community are among many persons who labelled the incident as an excessive use of force by police.
Bystanders identified the victim as Albert Jr Hazelwood, who was in the streets with five other friends playing music from a cell phone at 4 a.m.
Danielle, one of the initial six persons told SEARCHLIGHT that other residents joined in on the fun a few hours later, which was when the police intervened.
According to her account, music was being played from Hazelwood’s phone, which was connected to a Bluetooth speaker.
She said when officers returned, they confiscated the speaker and two phones, one of which belonged to Hazelwood.
And when Hazelwood asked for his phone, he was told that he could not get it back “because he was playing amplified music and had to go to the station”.
Police have banned amplified music as part of efforts to minimise social gatherings and mitigate the spread of COVID19.
“The young fella start to argue for his phone, when the officer pull the young fella and carry him close to the jeep, the one that was getting on aggressive grabble on pon the man hair and start to drag him inside the jeep. From there, things get out of hand, and when I say out of hand, I mean people started to defend the young man because what the young man did wasn’t wrong. He never do nothing wrong. The most he do, he ask for the phone,” a Layou resident, who identified himself as Majah said.
He told SEARCHLIGHT that he is the owner of the second phone that was confiscated yesterday morning.
However, he did not want to go to the Layou Police Station for fear that officers might detain him as well, based on his appearance.
Majah said the officers did not give any warning that the music was too loud, neither were there any orders to turn the music off.
He also said he was not satisfied with what transpired.
In the video, the officer is seen standing in the back of a pick-up truck holding on to Hazelwood and hauling him into the back of the vehicle.
The video also shows that a drink was thrown from the back of the crowd in the officer’s direction. It was at this point that the RRU officer drew his gun before seemingly shooting into the air over the crowd.
Other officers also had their weapons drawn. A member of the crowd claims that the bullet passed very close to him.
In another video, the officer is also seen tossing Hazelwood about in the back of the vehicle.
More than one person present during the incident told SEARCHLIGHT that police fired “three or four shots” yesterday morning.
“The police need to understand what their job is. Their job is to protect and serve…the fact that there were four shots fired, you could ask anybody here if they feel served or protected,” one person in the crowd said yesterday after the incident.
“They didn’t need to fire those bullets, it was unnecessary. It wasn’t a violent situation where there was fighting…it wasn’t a situation like that. We feel threatened. Everyone here feels very uncomfortable about that.”
The witness said officers arrived on the scene and immediately chose to use force in a matter where no form of violence was being reported.
He also pointed out what he believes to be a disparity in the enforcement of COVID19 protocols, as there are several other places where people gather and flout the rules that have been established by the authorities without facing repercussions.
Several persons who witnessed yesterday’s incident have also called on Dr Orande Brewster, the Parliamentary Representative for Central Leeward to intervene in any way possible.
When SEARCHLIGHT contacted the Police Public Relations Department yesterday, there was no available report on the matter. However, the department indicated that they are looking into it.
Calls to Commissioner of Police Colin John for comment were unanswered up to press time.