Rent-a-gun, contract killings make crime busting that much more difficult- cops, security expert say
Stabroek News news item. Sunday June 1, 2008
Police have acknowledged that guns used for criminal activity are trading hands, which is probably why specific spent shells show up at various crime scenes. But a security expert said it was not just about the rent-a-gun phenomenon, as some criminal gangs work on contracts.
The police had long acknowledged that criminals operating here would at times rent certain weapons to undertake specific tasks, making it difficult for law enforcers to track down the real killers.
However, security consultant, Clairmont Featherstone told Stabroek News in an interview on Friday that while he had no doubt guns were being rented and sold cheaply here, he believed the issue was less about ballistics and more about the operations of gangs. He said that from his own investigations he had discerned that there are no more than three well-trained, well-armed gangs operating in this country, with foreign input. Apart from these, he said, there are several other small groups, but these did not have the weaponry and the skills and were more associated with the street crimes.
According to Featherstone, many of the criminal groups do their own work, but often they took on contracts for other groups and corrupt individuals. “So when you see the same shells turning up everywhere it might be the same group working for different persons with different motives using the same we-apons,” Featherstone, proprietor of Intelliguard Specialist Security Services said.
Police had recently released the findings of ballistics examinations conducted on the 12 5.56 x 45 calibre and the nine 7.62 x 39 calibre spent shells found at the scene of the murder of Arjune Narine, which occurred on May 14, at Drury Lane and Middleton Street, Campbell-ville. The tests revealed that the 12 5.56 x 45 spent shells matched four spent shells found at the scene of the murder of Internet Café owner Lennox Drakes who was shot and killed on January 8, 2008 in Church Street, George-town. They also matched two spent shells found at the scene of the discharging of a loaded firearm on February 12, in the Buddy’s Pool Hall Car Park on Sheriff Street; five spent shells found at the scene of the attack on Police Head-quarters, Eve Leary on January 25 and the shooting-up of the Ministry of Culture. In addition, the police said, the nine 7.62 x 39 calibre spent shells found at Narine’s murder scene matched two spent shells found at the Buddy’s Pool Hall incident. It is widely believed that the shooting at the Police Headquarters was the work of the Buxton/Agricola criminals being led by wanted man Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins. But the Narine and Drake killings did not match the scale and modus operandi of that incident.
A senior police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was possible that the weapons used in the three incidents had traded hands, but he noted that there was no proof. “Whoever the police find with the gun at the time would have to answer so even if the guns were rented the police would work on who they find with them,” the officer said.
He said that criminals, in an attempt to conceal their operations would use one type of weapon and ammunition in multiple crimes and if they had an established network where they could rent or lease their weapons this would be done.
A trend has developed recently where the findings of ballistics tests point to one direction — the gunmen of Buxton, but the officer said this might be so because of public perception and not necessarily the way the police operate. “We know that criminals rent guns and it is quite possible that some of the killings blamed on one group of criminals may not be so,” the officer asserted.
However, he said that because of the nature of the operations of criminals here, where no one claimed responsibility for acts, whoever was found with a gun would most likely be charged with the killings committed with that weapon.
The police officer said criminals around would have links, whether they are involved in drug trafficking, gun smuggling or street crimes. According to the officer, each needed the other in the conduct of their nefarious deeds and it might be a case where they worked for each other on specific tasks.
Legal experts argued that there were many suspects before the court, charged with crimes they had not committed; they had been hauled in because they were found with guns used to commit those crimes.
Featherstone said gun-runners sometimes sold weapons that had been used in other killings, but they often did not tell the purchaser.
Several persons had, in the past, raised serious questions about the credibility of the police ballistics findings, but the force had stoutly defended it.
Crime Chief Sewlall Persaud and Assistant Com-missioner of Police Paul Slowe had both argued that the force had the equipment capable of conducting ballistics examinations with Persaud arguing that the results were never manufactured.
Police had announced shortly after the Lusignan massacre that 35 spent shells found at the scene had matched 18 found at the scene of the April 2006 killing of agriculture minister, Satyadeow Sawh, who was also a former ambassador to Venezuela. Sawh’s killing was blamed on the Buxton/ Agricola gang and several of the alleged operatives of the criminal enterprise were named in a police bulletin.
The gunmen had invaded Sawh’s home with almost military precision shortly after he, his brother Rajpat Sawh and sister Phulmattie Persaud had returned from a late-night family function. His wife, who hid in the bathroom, and two sons who were not at home escaped the grisly attack.
Days after the Bartica massacre, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee had announced that ballistics tests conducted on spent shells found at the crime scene had firmly established that the same weapons had been used to commit killings and robberies at three other locations last year: Better Hope on August 21, 2007; Sheribana on October 1, 2007 and Triumph, ECD on December 16, 2007.
He did not mention the Lusignan slayings in that initial brief, although President Bharrat Jagdeo had gone ahead and announced that the same band of criminals who had committed the Lusignan slaughter was also responsible for the Bartica attack.