The family of a 17-year-old boy, who was accidentally shot and killed by a police officer during a party in 2014, is set to receive over $1 million in compensation.
Delivering an oral judgment at the end of a brief trial at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ordered the compensation as he ruled that PC Clyde Best was negligent in Ricardo Mohammed’s death.
According to the evidence presented during the trial, the incident occurred on September 28, 2014, as Mohammed was attending a party at the Old Navy Restaurant and Bar, located along the Western Main Road near to the Chaguaramas Military Museum.
Although he was summoned to testify in the case, Best was not present for the hearing and his witness statement had to be tendered into evidence instead.
In his statement, Best claimed that on the morning of the incident, he cleared his service pistol and lodged it at the West End Police Station. The same firearm was returned to him when he reported back at the station to perform extra duty at the party, later that night.
“When I placed the firearm in my holster, I can say with certainty that there was no bullet in the chamber when I went on extra duty,” Best said.
Best said he went to the toilet at the party and when he was exiting he spotted two men smoking marijuana.
Best said that he scolded the men and seized the drugs. He claimed that when he was walking away one of the two men opposed him and attempted to pull his firearm from the holster.
During a struggle for control of the firearm, it went off. Best claimed that the man dropped the weapon and ran away.
He then learned from a solider that Mohammed, who was standing nearby, was shot in his neck.
Best was suspended following the incident and a coroner’s inquest has been ordered into Mohammed’s death.
In assessing the evidence in the case, Seepersad ruled that there were contradictions in Best’s claims over clearing the firearm and the defence to the case presented by the Office of the Attorney General.
He ruled that Best did not exercise reasonable due care and control of his firearm, which directly led to Mohammed’s death.
In assessing the compensation for Mohammed’s family, Seepersad made note of the evidence on teenager’s life, presented by his father Ricky, who brought the lawsuit in 2017.
The elder Mohammed claimed that at the time of his son’s death he was employed at Sanicup and earned $1,200 a week. He also claimed that his son supplemented his income by working in his barber salon on weekends. Mohammed, a former student at the Diego Martin North Secondary School, was also a member of the Valley Harps Steel Orchestra.
Seepersad ordered $960,000 in special damages to cover Mohammed’s future earnings, $25,000 for loss of life and $7,500 to cover his funeral expenses.
“This court is of the view that this Republic lost a young man with unlimited potential. The deceased had extreme potential and the ability to live a very successful life,” Seepersad said.
Seepersad granted a 60-day stay of the judgment to facilitate the State if it intends to appeal it.
Mohammed’s father was represented by Mario Merritt and Karunaa Bisramsingh.
- by Derek Achong