Friday 28 February 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 6

Police 'did not want to escalate violence'
Staff Sgt says commander made right call in ordering officers to hold back
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

A POLICE staff sergeant responding to unrest in Little India on Dec 8 was so angry when he saw rioters overturning a police car and setting it on fire, that he wanted to move in to arrest them.

But he and his fellow officers held back as ordered because they did not want to risk escalating the violence, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the riot heard.

"I was shocked (when) I reached there - it didn't look like Singapore," said Staff Sergeant Azmi Mohamed Hamzah, who was testifying at the public hearing yesterday.

Was he "spooked" by the crowd? asked COI chairman and retired Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam.

"Yes, but as time went by, I became agitated when I saw them burn the police car," replied the officer from Bishan Neighbourhood Police Centre.

He was at Hampshire Road with seven other officers when about 10 rioters overturned a police Fast Response Car in front of them. One of the men later threw something into the vehicle to set it on fire.

This angered Staff Sgt Azmi, who started moving towards the rioters. But he was stopped by Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Lu Yeow Lim, commander of Tanglin Police Division.

Asked by State Counsel Joshua Lim if, in hindsight, he agreed with DAC Lu's move, Staff Sgt Azmi said he did. While only 10 men were attacking the police vehicles along Hampshire Road at that point, the policemen were between two big groups of onlookers on either side of the road, he added.

"If they turned hostile, became angry that we took action against this small group that was burning the vehicle, they may have just gone to us, grabbed our revolvers and batons and used it against us," he said. "It was a split-second decision in that chaotic situation - I believe my commander made the right call."

Earlier, a fellow officer who took the stand dismissed allegations of police cowardice, after testifying that about 15 officers left the immediate vicinity of the riot in an ambulance.

Calling it "a tactical retreat", Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Edwin Yeo of Tanglin Police Division supported the decision of incident manager, ASP Jonathan Tang, to get the ambulance to leave the flashpoint.

The officers were faced with a stream of projectiles from all directions and many were injured, he said. "It was a plan to bring my officers to safety, to a better place for us to regroup and plan the next course of action. The act of us going into the ambulance was not an act of cowardice."

The day's hearings began with officers setting out the timeline of events that followed the accident that sparked the riot, starting from the radio operator who received the first 999 call.

Radio incident manager Chandru Sivadass told the COI that when he received the call at the Combined Operations Room at police headquarters at 9.23pm, it was to report a road traffic accident. He informed the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Traffic Police accordingly, both of which then dispatched vehicles and officers to the scene.

The COI also heard that rioters told police officers at the scene that they felt disrespected here.

Special Constable Arshard Abdul Murad said some in the crowd asked him if the police "thought they were stupid". "They said to me words to the effect (of)... why this must happen to them and why they must be treated this way," he added.

On Tuesday, Senior Staff Sergeant Mydeen Sahul Hameed also said some workers in the crowd told him they did not feel respected here. "They believed they had been discriminated against in Singapore," he told the inquiry.

When asked what he thought the rioters meant, Senior Staff Sgt Mydeen said some might have felt that the accident victim died as his life was deemed less valuable. But the workers did not mention past incidents, he added.

There was also drama in the public gallery of the courtroom yesterday when Ms R. Angelina, who had been charged in an unrelated case on Monday, stood up in the public gallery and asked for "just two minutes" to speak.

Mr Selvam cut her off and said he would not give her two seconds. "This is not a townhall rally," he said.

The public hearing continues today with more first responders expected to testify.

Police officers deny they displayed ‘cowardice’
By Amanda Lee, TODAY, 27 Feb 2014

Two police officers who took the stand yesterday rejected suggestions that they and their fellow officers displayed cowardice and fled from the epicentre of the Little India riot.

That some of the officers got into an ambulance was a tactical retreat to regroup and plan for their next course of action, one of them said. Nevertheless, the other officer conceded that he ran away, after he was pressed by Committee of Inquiry (COI) Chairman G Pannir Selvam.

During the hearing, State Counsel Joshua Lim pointed out to Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Edwin Yong Wen Wei that there were allegations that the police “were cowardly or displayed signs of cowardice getting into the ambulance”. “Were you cowardly getting into the ambulance?” Mr Lim asked.

ASP Yong said he did not think that it was an act of cowardice. He explained that there were injured officers in the ambulance and the others were initially outside, trying to protect the vehicle. “There was a need as a team leader to bring my officers to a safer environment, which is inside the ambulance,” he said.

The police officers with him also passed their riot shields to nearby Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel who were in a fire truck that had its windows shattered. The SCDF personnel in turn lent the police officers their helmets, ASP Yong said.

“So I don’t think it was cowardice. It was a plan to bring the officers to safety and it was a place to plan and regroup,” he added. Mr Selvam suggested it was a tactical retreat and ASP Yong agreed.

Before ASP Yong took the stand, Mr Selvam had pressed Special Constable Sergeant (Sc/Sgt) Abdul Aziz Abdul Khalid on whether he ran away from the scene. Mr Selvam said: “... a lot of people are saying — and one gets the impression when you look at the video footage on YouTube — that the police were frightened and ran away from the scene. Did you run away from the scene?”

Sc/Sgt Abdul Aziz replied: “I wouldn’t actually call it running away because we went away for a while to regroup and to think of a plan of how we can solve this issue.” He added: “So we went away for a while, we regrouped and then we came back.”

Under further questioning, Sc/Sgt Abdul Aziz said at first that he “walked away very quickly” before he eventually agreed with Mr Selvam that he did run away.

Mr Selvam then asked him if the officers around him also ran away. To which Sc/Sgt Abdul Aziz replied: “I wasn’t too sure about the other officers.”

Auxiliary cop 'caught' four suspects but did not arrest them
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

AN AUXILIARY police officer yesterday admitted that he had personally "caught" four suspects during the riot in Little India, and not "arrested" them as he previously claimed.

Certis Cisco constable Srisivasangkar Subramaniam, 22, was recalled to clarify his earlier evidence after investigators for the Committee of Inquiry (COI) were asked to look into his claims.

Two senior police officers had also told the committee that it was not possible to make any arrests because of their limited manpower, and doing so may have further agitated the mob and inflamed what was an already volatile situation.

Mr Srisivasangkar told the COI on Tuesday that he had arrested four Indian workers after he saw them "throwing things" during the riot.

The constable said he grabbed them from behind and dragged them 10 to 20 steps from Kerbau Road to Race Course Road and handed them over to the police.

After State Counsel John Lu asked if he caught all four men at once, COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam remarked: "You must be Superman if you had handled all of them at the same time."

Mr Srisivasangkar later admitted that he did not follow the proper procedures for making arrests, the inquiry heard.

For instance, he did not tell the suspects that they were under arrest, explain the offence committed or take down their particulars.

Furthermore, the "five to six" police officers that he left the suspects with were focused on dealing with the unruly mob, Mr Srisivasangkar said yesterday.

He added that he was unsure if the police had even seen him arriving with the four suspects, and that he could not remember if he had said anything to the officers at the time.

"It did not occur to me that they might run away," he added. "I thought the police would have seen me, so I left them there."

Mr Srisivasangkar said he later radioed his supervisor, Sergeant Mahmood Masdar, to tell him what he had done. Then, he made his way to meet the sergeant at Hampshire Road, as he had sustained a stomach injury.

The constable had said in his earlier statement: "After handing over the fourth person, my ground supervisor told me that what I was doing was brave but dangerous and told me to stop."

However, Sgt Mahmood, who was called as an unscheduled witness yesterday to clarify Mr Srisivasangkar's claims, said his remarks were taken out of context.

"I told him he was brave, but it was dangerous to go in (to the scene of the riot) alone without safety equipment," he said.

He added that he did not receive any message about the arrests Mr Srisivasangkar made through his walkie-talkie because "sometimes, there was interference; it was very noisy".

The status of the four men caught by Mr Srisivasangkar remains unclear.

When Mr Lu asked Mr Srisivasangkar if he considered himself as having "formally arrested the four Indian workers", the constable replied: "No."

Communication with crowd could have been improved
By Amanda Lee, TODAY, 26 Feb 2014

The language barrier was one of the issues police officers faced when the Little India riot broke out on Dec 8 last year, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) heard today.

Corporal Arshard Abdul Murad told the COI that he and the other police officers shouted in English to the crowd of rioters to disperse and go home. “But it did seem that they did not understand what we were saying and they continued to walk about aimlessly,” he added.

On that night, 33-year-old Indian national construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu was fatally run over by a bus, and the accident sparked a riot.

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Edwin Yong Wen Wei felt the police officers’ initial communication with the crowd around the bus could have been better “as the crowd may not have understood” what the officers were saying when the crowd was asked to move back.

ASP Yong also added that while he has undergone training in crowd control and conflict management, he has not been trained for a “full-scale” riot such as the Little India riot.

Earlier today, another four police officers — either from the operations room, police station or present at the scene — testified in the inquiry.

Smaller teams can't handle large-scale riots
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

ASIDE from troops from the Special Operations Command (SOC), Divisional Tactical Teams (DTT) from Neighbourhood Police Centres are also trained to deal with public order incidents.

But these smaller teams do not have the capabilities to take on a large-scale riot, unlike the SOC, which was called in to quell the violence in Little India, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) heard.

"Yes, a DTT is trained to control riots and crowd situations," team member Azmi Mohamed Hamzah told the inquiry yesterday. "But we can only contain them until the SOC comes in."

The police staff sergeant, who was taking the witness stand on day six of the public hearing, said each Neighbourhood Police Centre is equipped with one DTT. It is usually a secondary appointment on top of regular police duties, said Staff Sgt Azmi, who has been a DTT officer since 2005.

DTT officers are trained to handle "passive resistance" or non-violent crowds who protest by holding placards, interlocking their arms as well as refusing to move or disperse, he added.

They can also arrest small groups of 10 people or less, depending on the situation.

Each DTT, whose predecessor was the Light Strike Force, comprises nine officers who have received formal training in riot and crowd control, the inquiry heard.

Last Friday, Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar said a DTT must assemble within four hours of activation, while SOC troops on stand-by are required to respond within 15 minutes.

DTT officers are usually equipped with a tactical shield, body armour, helmet with a visor and a long baton, the inquiry heard yesterday. The police say that the baton, which is less than 1m long, is a defensive weapon, though it can also be used during a "baton charge".

"Once the command is given, we will charge and give a full swing (of the baton) at whoever is in front of you," said Staff Sgt Azmi.

The DTT also takes part in joint training operations with the SOC, and up to nine different DTT units can be merged to form a larger team if required, the COI was told.

Former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba, who is on the committee, asked Staff Sgt Azmi whether, in hindsight, some DTT teams should have been put on stand-by on Sundays given the massive crowd and drinking problem associated with Little India.

"It can be done because our division at Clarke Quay has a team on stand-by," replied the officer.

To which Mr Tee said: "This is more dangerous than Clarke Quay, no?"

Staff Sgt Azmi agreed.

Duo jailed 18 weeks for failing to disperse
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

TWO Indian nationals were each jailed for 18 weeks yesterday for their roles in the Dec 8 riot.

Construction worker Thangaiya Selvakumar, 25, and welder Thiagarajan Sribalamurugan, 23, are the fourth and fifth workers, among the 25 who have been charged, to be sentenced.

Both pleaded guilty to the amended charge of failing to disperse despite being lawfully commanded to do so during the violence in Little India.

They had originally faced rioting charges, which carry a maximum sentence of seven years in jail and caning, compared with two years and/or a fine for disobeying dispersal orders.

Their sentences will be backdated to Dec 8, the day of their arrests, and they could be released within a week on the basis of good behaviour.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sarah Ong had urged the court to sentence them to between 16 and 18 weeks each, noting that they had repeatedly defied police commands to disperse in "blatant disregard for authority" and "contributed to the impediment of the police's efforts to quell the riot".

Earlier this month, three other men were sentenced to serve between 15 and 18 weeks in jail under the same amended charge.

Cases against 20 other Indian nationals are pending. This, even as the Committee of Inquiry into the cause of the riot is under way.

Some 57 foreigners arrested in connection with the incident last year have since been repatriated. Police advisories were issued to 213 others for their passive and incidental involvement in the riot.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

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