Trinidad – Wrongful arrest
Man awarded $300,000 after being detained in 2011
PORT OF SPAIN – The State can expect a slew of civil lawsuits, resulting from the ruling yesterday of High Court Judge Joan Charles, who found the arrest of a Marabella parlour owner during the 2011 State of Emergency (SoE) amounted to wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
It is the first such judgment arising out of an SoE-related lawsuit.
In her judgment in the San Fernando High Court, Charles was scathing in her criticism of the police officers involved in the arrest of Kevin Stuart.
She said Police Constable Nicholas Phillips, who arrested Stuart, fabricated evidence and lied, and the conduct of Assistant Superintendent Zamsheed Mohammed and Assistant Commissioner of Police Fitzroy Fredericks (now retired), who instructed that Stuart be charged, amounted to a gross dereliction of their duty, and they were irresponsible and unprofessional in how they assessed the evidence, based on the Anti-Gang Act.
Stuart was awarded more than $350,000 in aggravated, exemplary and special damages as compensation for his arrest and month-long detention, which ended after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard came to court and announced the case against him and 199 other SoE detainees were being discontinued for lack of evidence.
More than 4,000 people were arrested during the SoE, which was called by prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on August 21, 2011, and ended on December 6 of that year.
Attorney Kevin Ratiram, who represented Stuart, said yesterday the judgment was a victory for the rule of law.
“Let this be a lesson to the police. During the SoE in 2011, the police acted as a law unto themselves. There was total disregard for due process. Anyone with a criminal past who they could put their hands on was arrested and charged under the Anti-Gang Act.
“These men were automatically denied bail as the act prescribed. Had it not been for the subsequent intervention of the DPP, God alone knows how long they would have languished in prison,” said Ratiram, who was instructed by attorney Sharmilla Rampaul.
Ratiram said he planned to file 20 similar lawsuits.
The Attorney General was represented by Senior Counsel Russell Martineau, Gerald Ramdeen and others.
Stuart, also known as Kevin Stewart, was arrested on August 27, 2011, and charged two days later with being a gang member. On September 29 that year, the prosecution discontinued proceedings.
When Stuart filed the lawsuit, the police officers claimed in defence they honestly believed he was a gangster who sold narcotics, based on surveillance and his interaction with people who were later found to be in possession of narcotics. The police also contended Stuart had a drug-dealing criminal record and, as a result, his prosecution was not malicious.
However, during the cross-examination of the police officers, Ratiram picked apart their testimony relating to the method used in compiling and assessing the information gathered on people suspected of being involved in gang-related activities, based on the Anti-Gang Act which came into force on August 15, 2011. A copy of the act was circulated among officers, with instructions on how to investigate suspects and present the information to a First Division officer for instructions.
In the judgment, Charles said officers did not follow the protocols and the decision to charge Stuart was incomprehensible.
Regarding the evidence of the police constable, Charles said his “testimony was riddled with so many inconsistencies that I do not consider him to be either creditworthy or reliable”, and he contradicted the evidence of senior officers who were also irresponsible and unprofessional in giving instructions to charge Stuart when there was no written report regarding any gang-related activity.
Charles commented: “The fact that this officer, throughout his testimony, attempted to buttress, strengthen and fabricate new evidence against (Stuart) is a strong basis to conclude that he fabricated the case against (Stuart) and he, in fact, had no reasonable or probable cause to charge him.
“I also form the view, based on the many lies and inconsistencies in his evidence, that the prosecution of (Stuart) was malicious, in that there was an indirect or improper motive for proceeding with the charge against him.”
The judge said the marijuana offences against Stuart could not form the basis that he was involved in gang activity and his prosecution was therefore malicious. She said the three officers cited in the case were motivated by “indirect or improper motives” and failed to use the 72-hour “detention without charge”, provided by the Anti-Gang Act, to satisfy themselves there was sufficient grounds to arrest and charge Stuart.
Charles said the case was one where both aggravated and exemplary damages be awarded. Exemplary damages are awarded when the court seeks to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct.
Stuart was awarded $300,000 in aggravated damages and $50,000 as exemplary damages, and $1,800 for loss of income during the time he was in prison.