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