Derek Achong

The State has been ordered to pay over $750,000 in compensation to four prisoners detained the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca. They were beaten by prison officers during an incident in 2015.

Delivering a judgment electronically on Tuesday, High Court Judge Carol Gobin upheld the assault and battery case brought by Kernell Lewis, Quillion Hudson, Adisa James, and Nicholas Owen as she ruled that she believed them over the prison officers, who were accused of carrying out the beatings.

Hudson passed away while the case was still pending, so his compensation will go to his mother Charmaine, who applied to the court to carry on the case in his absence.

In the lawsuit, the four men claimed the incident occurred on September 21, 2015, while they were in the airing yard with other inmates.

James was allegedly stabbed by a fellow inmate. They heard an alarm go off and were ordered by the officers to kneel.

They claimed they were beaten by the officers, who were armed with batons, and were taken for medical treatment almost two days later.

Defending the claim, the prison officers claimed that the men sustained the injuries in the brawl with fellow inmates and that they merely used reasonable force to separate the parties.

In assessing the evidence in the case, Gobin noted that the prison officers on duty failed to produce any records of the incident and of any subsequent investigation.

“I considered the failure to produce any contemporaneous records unacceptable. Among the excuses for the unavailability of the records was the death of Mr Badal, the prison supervisor at the time. This was astonishing and simply unbelievable,” Gobin said.

Gobin also took issue with the fact that some of the officers, who served as witnesses in the case, claimed that CCTV cameras at the facility were not functioning while others said that they were.

“While I am not insensitive to the fact that many government institutions face shortages and inadequacies in the maintenance of plant and equipment, I refuse to believe that the cameras at the most violent and volatile section of the Maximum Security Prison have not been working for years,” she said.

Gobin also rejected challenges by state attorneys over the extent of the injuries the group suffered.

“Multiple soft tissue injuries about the body, even when there is no breakage of the skin or obvious laceration, are not superficial. The fact that the claimants did not all come out with broken bones is hardly a ground for reducing the assessment of the gravity of the attacks,” Gobin said.

Gobin assessed the compensation for each man based on the extent of their injuries. Lewis, James, and Owen will each receive $140,000 in general damages, while Hudson’s mother will receive $155,000.

Gobin also decided to grant each man an additional $50,000 in exemplary damages for the prison officers’ conduct. She also ordered the State to pay 75 percent of the group’s legal costs for bringing the lawsuit.

“The conduct of the officers who administered the violent beatings, the circumstances and the subsequent conduct was reprehensible, oppressive, and unprovoked,” Gobin said, as she suggested that the incident was co-ordinated “just to make a point”.

In her judgment, Gobin lamented over the frequency with which the local courts have had to deal with similar cases of abuse.

“I respectfully suggest that millions of taxpayer dollars that Government continues to pay to inmates in these cases, may be better applied to programmes for training prison officers and for providing sufficient equipment, and increased manpower and security for our prison officers so that systematic resort to violence to establish control by officers is reduced or eliminated,” Gobin said.

The prisoners were represented by Gerald Ramdeen and Darryl Heeralal, while Keith Scotland, Jacqueline Chan, Amrita Ramsook and Savitri Maharaj represented the Office of the Attorney General.