CHILDHOOD FRIEND: Elias Lewis. —Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

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Was it mistaken identity?

Killing of handyman George Ashby in 2009

By Susan Mohammed susan.mohammed@trinidadexpress.com

THERE are two irreconcilable versions of what led to the police killing of George Ashby on the night of January 23, 2009.

The truth and the lies are clear in the minds of Ashby's relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbours.

Three years later no one has been held accountable for killing Ashby, eroding the trust a community had placed in the law enforcement arm of the State, to protect and serve.

In the version of events released by police, and backed by a statement from the Office of the Attorney General, Ashby was nothing more than a common criminal shot dead by brave police officers, while trying to escape after committing a supermarket robbery.

The other version, supported by scores of persons in his community, was that Ashby was a decent, law-abiding, hard-working citizen of Tabaquite, who was "collateral damage" for seven trigger-happy policemen.

Ashby, a handyman of the Tabaquite Composite School, spent the last day of his life with teachers of the school cooking a meal of ground provisions and stewed pork.

He left that school's compound that evening with a "weed-whacker" that he intended to repair.

The policemen who killed Ashby claimed that the 52-year-old father of four and an accomplice had robbed a supermarket that evening when Ashby's Nissan B-12 Sentra was intercepted in Tabaquite.

Police said Ashby pointed a shotgun at them. Everyone else said the gun was really the "weed whacker".

Villagers said Ashby had placed the weed whacker in the front passenger's side of the vehicle, with part of it protruding from a window.

Ashby died from gunshot wounds to his chest while in the tray of the police van taking him to the Mayaro District Hospital.

The outrage felt in Ashby's community led to the formation of the George "Ozzie" Ashby Memorial and Justice Committee, which to this day remains stunned by the State's failure to complete the criminal investigation into Ashby's killing.

A docket filled with letters, information, and testimonies from the group has been in the hands of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) for the last three years.

The committee last year appealed in a letter to Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs, when he was new in office, to bring completion to the criminal investigation.

The Express has since learnt that the case was handed over to the Professional Standards Unit of the Police Service, which has investigated and laid charges in several cases including the Moruga killings of three civilians in which seven police officers now stand accused.

Up until two weeks ago, Ashby's childhood friend, Elias Lewis, was in contact with the PCA investigator, wanting an update on the case. Lewis told the Express yesterday: "Before George Ashby's death, when someone got killed by the police, I used to be very sceptical when I heard relatives say the person was good. I used to think police would not have killed the person if they were good. Now I don't. This system has failed George Ashby. It started with the policemen who unlawfully kill the man and then tried to make him out to be a criminal."

Lewis said in April 2009—even without the criminal investigation complete—a statement was issued by the office of the Attorney General that Ashby's life was not unjustly taken by police.

"It leaves us to wonder on what basis the Attorney General issued that letter?" he asked.

Lewis said he believes Ashby's killing was "a case of mistaken identity coupled with excessive force".

Head of the PCA, Gillian Lucky, said yesterday that the investigations were active with respect to the complaint filed.

Lucky added, "Since the PCA started monitoring this investigation by the police, ensuring that the file was not allowed to go cold, the PCA investigator assigned to this matter has retrieved several analyst reports that were outstanding. This PCA investigator is in regular contact with family members and friends of the deceased. He has submitted for my attention some deficiencies with respect to the police investigation in this matter. The police are reported to be almost finished with its investigation and upon completion, the PCA will request the police file so that we can make our observations, findings and recommendations."

A webpage at the website www.respectance.com/georgeashby.com is dedicated to Ashby's memory.

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