A Cumuto man, who was beaten by an off-duty police officer in bar brawl before being falsely charged with a string of criminal offences, has received over $200,000 in compensation.
In a 31-page judgment High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad upheld the unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, and malicious prosecution case brought by Miguel Benoit against PCs Keston Hanooman, Imran Cassar, and Justin Durity and the Office of the Attorney General.
Rampersad's decision in the case was based on the fact that Benoit's evidence was uncontroverted due to issues with the officers' evidence.
Hanooman, who was the protagonist, failed to accede to State attorneys' requests for him to sign his witness statement, while his colleagues signed theirs after the deadline for doing so had expired.
Describing the officers' actions as a serious dereliction of duty, Rampersad said: "Everyone is busy, no doubt, is the constant cry. Officers of the law, though, should never be too busy to try to establish the law or maintain the propriety of their actions."
In his judgment, Rampersad ordered Hanooman to pay Benoit $7,500 for the injuries he sustained when Hanooman attacked him with a beer bottle during the brawl.
He ordered that the three officers and the AG's Office pay Benoit $75,000 in general damages for his unlawful arrest and detention, $50,000 for malicious prosecution and $12,500 in special damages. The State was also made to foot Benoit's $46,196.34 legal bill for bringing the lawsuit.
Rampersad also considered whether exemplary damages, which seeks to serve as a deterrent against similar action in the future, was appropriate in the case.
He noted that while judges had made such orders in the past, the concerns raised by them appeared to have been ignored as the State continues to indemnify officers.
Rampersad noted that the court could only make such orders but it was up to the State to take action against errant officers.
Rampersad also ordered that the Registrar of the Supreme Court send copies of his judgement to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and the Police Complaints Authority for them to investigate the officers.
According to the evidence in the case, Benoit's first interaction with Hanooman came on April 28, 2013, as he was playing cards in a bar in his community.
He claimed that he had a disagreement with a man and the man's friend, identified as Shaquille, became aggressive.
Benoit attempted to leave but was stopped by Shaquille's brother, who he later learned was Hanooman.
Hanooman allegedly grabbed him by his neck and hit him on his forehead with a beer bottle.
After he regained consciousness, Benoit made a report of the incident to the police.
Several days later, Benoit was at a parlour in the community with his two sons when he was approached by Hanooman, Cassar, Durity and another officer.
The three officers, named in the lawsuit, arrested Benoit despite protests from their colleague.
Benoit claimed that he was threatened by the three officers before Hanooman charged him for escaping lawful custody, throwing missiles, using obscene language and possession of a weapon.
The case was called several times before it was eventually dismissed by a Sangre Grande magistrate because the officers failed to appear.
Benoit was represented by Shannon Samaroo-Suraj and Ivan Daniel, while Andrew Lamont, Rachael Jacob, and Avaria Niles represented the State.
- Derek Achong