Capitol Hill — Following the announcement of an alleged discovery of firearms in two of the vehicles belonging to officials of the Council of Patriots, Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue and the Director of the Executive Protection Services (EPS), Trokon Roberts, have given contradictory accounts surrounding the incident.
Following the forceful dispersing of the protesters on Monday, January 6, the Liberia National Police (LNP) announced that it found several weapons including a 9-Millimeter Lugar black pistol with one magazine and four rounds and a barrister Pistol in two of the vehicles belonging to Rep. Yekeh Kolubah of District #10, Montserrado County.
The two top brasses spoke to the media on separate occasions after they searched three cars and claimed they found the guns.
In IG Sudue's account, the vehicles were abandoned by protesters at the entrance of the Capitol Building and they (LNP) drove them to their Police Headquarters, which is within the same vicinity. According to him, there he immediately ordered his officers to search the vehicles and while they were searching that was when they allegedly found the arms and ammunitions along with a knife and other deadly objects in the lawmaker's official car marked 'HOR 65.'
Based on the discovery of the weapons, IG Sudue said he immediately halted the exercise and ordered his men to call the press to continue with the search in order to ensure transparency in the process.
"There were three vehicles that left behind, so we thought it wise to bring them at the basement and we checked the loading tuck and the white pickup, and we saw something like a fire arm," he explained.
He continues: "So immediately, I put a halt to the search and asked that we called the press to come in and when the press came in, we took the weapon out and everybody saw the weapon with a knife. And in your presence we searched the second vehicle and one 9 millimeter pistol was found under the rug of the vehicle right in your own presence."
Speaking further, Sudue noted that the Police decided to use the water cannon and teargas on the protesters after they refused to quench the fire they lit on the street passing between the Executive Mansion, the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court of Liberia.
In the process of quenching the fire, he claimed the protesters began attacking the Police and they (Police) had no choice but to move on them.
He blamed the protesters for provoking the police.
EPS Director's Accounts
In his explanation, the EPS boss explained that immediately after the crowd was removed by the LNP, a source immediately called him and informed him that two of the cars used by the protesters had guns in them.
He claimed at first he was reluctant about the "intel" but after incessant calls, he decided to drive with few of his men to the Police Headquarters on Capitol Hill.
According to him, upon his arrival, he ordered the highest-ranking officer on ground to search one of the impounded vehicles and when they discovered the pistols and the knife, he immediately called the Deputy Inspector General for Operations, who was not on the scene of the alleged first search.
"I was home and got a tip off that the white pickup that Hon. Yekeh Kolubah was using got a gun in it. I reluctantly contacted senior security from the DEA and 102 (Deputy Inspector General for Operations)," Mr. Roberts said.
"There is no point in carrying the group to something you haven't seen so when we drove at the Police headquarters I asked for the senior Police officer on ground to do us a favor. I told him it is believed that this car is carrying a weapon, and I instructed them to search it and in no time a guy found the pistol and it was loaded. While there, I decided to call 102, and he came and I told him that I was informed the second car is also carrying a gun, and I think you (journalists) saw for yourself that it was loaded."
Police Forceful Removal, Impounding of Vehicles As It Happened
Meanwhile, contrary to IG Sudue's assertions that the protesters attacked the anti-riot Police, this newspaper can confirm that the police were not attacked while protesters were before the Capitol Building and Executive Mansion.
This newspaper also observed that there was no warning from the police to the protesters to put out the fire or to leave. When the drove their water truck and put it in position, the gathered before the truck the anti-riot officers, waving the Liberian Flag and began chanting, "We want peace... "
In few minutes, the Police began spraying the protesters with water and shooting teargas.
This sent a wave of pandemonium among the scores of protesters including Rep. Yekeh Kolubah and Ms. Telia Urey, who all ran for refuge as the police chased them down Buzzy Quarter and Camp Johnson Road.
After the crowd had dispersed, the Police began impounding the vehicles left by the protesters. Rep. Kolubah's car was impounded and his driver and others who were around were caught and whisked in them to the Police headquarters.
Council of Patriots' Respond
Responding to the claims of finding deadly weapons in Rep. Kolubah's vehicle, which the police had driven from the protest grounds to their headquarters before they announced that they had found the items, Mr. Costa, the Chairman of the Council of Patriots, said "Our peaceful protest ended in an onslaught by the State. Our people were peaceful until they were provoked and teargassed and several of them got wounded. We have been told at least five of them are in police custody and for what?"
"Now, a most grave incident that happened today or few minutes ago, which we watched on TV. We saw a spectacle, a heinous violation of our laws: where two vehicles, a Toyota RAV 4 and a Ford Explorer, belonging to Honorable Yekeh Kolubah, that were parked at the scene of our protest, vehicles that he drove there himself, allowed into the premises by the police earlier in the day. They had searched all the vehicles that entered on the grounds of the protest. My vehicle was searched, so I presumed Honorable Kolubah's vehicles were searched," Costa said.
He argued that at the time police had earlier conducted searches on and in their vehicles, no weapons were found; adding: "It is a very ridiculous spectacle. Because we watched the clearly incompetent Inspector General of Police carried out an illegal search of Honorable Kolubah's vehicles."
According to the COP Chairman, under Liberia's laws, it is only the court that can authorize a search of someone's premises or their vehicle. "The police can't conduct a search without a search warrant, without court officers carrying out the search."
He justified that any pieces of evidence obtained through such "illegal manner" can't be used in a court of competence jurisdiction. "In fact, it is against the law to search someone's properties without their consent and without a court order and to top it all up, they claimed that they found weapons -- firearms, in Hon. Kolubah's vehicles. We want to state categorically that at no times did Hon. Kolubah have any weapons in any of those two vehicles. There were tons of people in those vehicles today riding with him. The place where they claimed they found the weapons, it is ridiculous that he could put weapons recklessly in open view."
Costa thinks that the Police IG's boss, Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean, who is a lawyer, knows that the police had blundered with their evidence gathering.
The COP than called on the Liberian National Police through the Ministry of Justice to with immediate effect issue an open apology to Rep. Kolubah for illegally searching his vehicle without his approved prior consent and without a court order. He threatened that COP's lawyers have been put on the alert to begin a legal process first by formally filing an official complaint with the LNP beginning Tuesday, January 7.
Turning to the protest, he told journalists, "We are here under very traumatized circumstances. Before we even begin to recount today's most successful peaceful protest, which unfortunately ended in violence provoked entirely by the government. We would like to seize the moment to thank from our hearts all of our supporters, who turned out today braving the threats meted out against them by the State -- the threat of denial of security for them and yet they came out in their thousands."
According to Costa, under what he called normal circumstances, they would have called the press conference only to thank their supporters for their show of support on Monday, January 6.
He said if the police felt that their cooking utensils, including coal-pots and cooking pots, were harmful, why they didn't stop them from bringing them into the grounds. "But because they realized that the people were determined to stay out there in a continued peaceable manner that is when they decided to use teargas and water canon against unarmed, innocent peaceful civilians."
He disclosed that one of the five persons allegedly arrested by the police is his own sister. However, the LNP, in a statement released late Monday night admitted that they had arrested 18 persons, who are alleged of rioting and in possession of harmful instruments. "They are currently detained at the headquarters of the Liberia National Police undergoing investigation."