Penal man awarded $75,000 for police beating

A Pe­nal man has been award­ed $75,000 af­ter a High Court judge ruled that po­lice had un­law­ful­ly ar­rest­ed and beat the man, lead­ing to him los­ing sight in his left eye.

Jus­tice Frank Seep­er­sad ruled in favour of Nicholas Guer­ra. The judge dis­missed the claims by of­fi­cers that the in­juries Guer­ra suf­fered were as a re­sult of them at­tempt­ing to dis­arm him at the A&R Bar in Pe­nal on June 13, 2013.

The po­lice of­fi­cers, PCs Lennox Bap­tiste and Ker­ry Men­tor, had gone to the bar seek­ing Guer­ra af­ter a re­ceiv­ing a re­port from his girl­friend that he had threat­ened her while he was drunk.

They claimed Bap­tiste in­ad­ver­tent­ly struck Guer­ra twice in the face while at­tempt­ing to re­lieve him of a switch­blade which Guer­ra seemed primed to at­tack Men­tor with.

Bap­tiste re­port­ed­ly struck Guer­ra in the face once again as he strug­gled fur­ther.

Guer­ra, 34, his moth­er Chan­dra Ma­haraj and wit­ness Shane Vial­va dis­put­ed the of­fi­cers’ ver­sion of events stat­ing that Guer­ra did not con­front the of­fi­cers when they came to him at the bar.

They said Guer­ra com­plied with the of­fi­cers who frisked him, then up­on find­ing a ser­vice tool-knife in his pock­et, hand­cuffed him claim­ing he was be­ing held for pos­ses­sion of a weapon.

Guer­ra, ac­cord­ing to their wit­ness state­ments, left in the po­lice car with­out any in­juries.

In his state­ment, Guer­ra claimed he was then tak­en to Con­go Trace where Bap­tiste struck him sev­er­al times in the face caus­ing se­vere in­juries to his eyes and nose.

He was treat­ed for fa­cial in­juries at the Siparia Dis­trict Health Fa­cil­i­ty af­ter be­ing tak­en there by po­lice.

He re­ceived a fur­ther med­ical as­sess­ment for his in­juries at the San Fer­nan­do Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal af­ter be­ing bailed out by his moth­er.

At the hos­pi­tal, Guer­ra was told that he had a cut on his left eye that re­quired emer­gency surgery.

In his rul­ing yes­ter­day, Jus­tice Seep­er­sad said: “The court finds as a fact that the claimant did not pull out a knife at the bar and he did not at­tempt to at­tack the of­fi­cer.”

He said: “The claimant did not leave the bar with in­juries and the court holds that the claimant was beat­en by of­fi­cer Bap­tiste at Con­go Trace and the claimant lost sight in his left eye.”

In his rul­ing, Seep­er­sad be­moaned the of­fi­cers’ ac­tions, not­ing it con­tributed to the weak­en­ing of pub­lic trust in the Po­lice Ser­vice which he not­ed had seen an up­turn fol­low­ing the ef­forts of Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith.

“The re­cent break­throughs have re­sult­ed in an in­crease in the pub­lic’s trust and con­fi­dence not on­ly in the of­fice of the Com­mis­sion­er but in the en­tire Po­lice Ser­vice. If this trend con­tin­ues the sym­bi­ot­ic re­la­tion­ship be­tween cit­i­zens and the ser­vice will im­prove, in­for­ma­tion would be shared and crime de­tec­tion rates should soar,” said the judge.

Seep­er­sad was al­so con­cerned that the cur­rent law did not im­pose fi­nan­cial li­a­bil­i­ty on of­fi­cers in such cas­es.

“This court is there­fore res­olute in its con­vic­tion that the in­stant case war­rants the im­po­si­tion of an award of ex­em­plary and ag­gra­vat­ed dam­ages. The irony that these awards are ul­ti­mate­ly paid by tax­pay­ers and not by the com­plic­it of­fi­cers has to be ac­knowl­edged and ad­dressed,” he said.

Reporter: Peter Christopher

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