Lawyers representing a couple and their two young children, who were severely affected by tear gas fired by police at an event at the Queen’s Park Savannah on Sunday, have written to acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob seeing official information on what transpired.
The request was made by lawyers representing Javed Daniel, his wife Judine Bonaparte and their two boys, ages four and five, in a letter which was sent to Jacob yesterday.
In the letter, obtained by Guardian Media, attorney Dinesh Rambally claimed that the family went to the location to participate in a peaceful “pray and reflect” event.
“From our clients’ observations, the persons who were at the Queen’s Park Savannah were not involved in any illegal, hostile or disruptive activities,” Rambally said.
“There was no destruction of public property, acts of violence or unruly behaviour that could justify either (a) police intervention or (b) the deployment of forceful crowd suppression tactics,” he added.
Rambally claimed that his clients were in the vicinity of Victoria Avenue, when they noticed a large group of heavily armed police officers, in riot gear, advancing towards them and other participants.
The police officers then began firing canisters, which they (the family) later learnt contained tear gas.
“My clients tried to flee the area as fast and as best as they could, however the tear gas surrounded them in a matter of seconds and they were all exposed and forced to inhale the said gas,” Rambally said.
He claimed that the family reported experiencing a strong burning sensation in their lungs and eyes and difficulty breathing. The children were the most affected.
“The children described that they felt as if they were choking and at the same time wanting to throw-up,” Rambally said, as he noted that fellow participants rushed to their assistance and administered water to their eyes to bring relief.
He stated that the symptoms persisted for the next 48 hours.
Rambally claimed that why the family recovered from the physical symptoms, the children had psychological trauma and have since sought counselling.
Rambally claimed that the older son, who had aspirations of being a police officer, was especially traumatised and has expressed reluctance to go to the savannah in the future.
“He has told his father that “police are bad guys because they make smoke burn your eyes”,” Rambally said.
Rambally said that the officers assigned to the location and who decided to use the tear gas have a responsibility to prove and justify its use in the circumstances.
“The jurisprudence on the use of tear gas has established that the burden of necessitous infliction of farm on an individual by a public officer in the purported performance of public functions in the public interest should be borne by the said public officer,” Rambally said.
Rambally suggested that based on his client’s instructions the incident appeared to constitute an assault and battery in civil law.
He also revealed that he intends to write to the Office of the Attorney General on the issue as the incident “raises a myriad of constitutional concerns”.
The family’s lawyers are seeking the Police Service written policy for the use of tear gas, the reasons for it being used during the event, official police records of the incident and the identity of the officer, who authorised the action.
Rambally gave Jacob 28 days in which to respond to the letter and threatened to file a lawsuit over the issue if the deadline is not met.
The family is also being represented by Prakash Ramadhar, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan.
The use of tear gas in the situation has drawn criticism from numerous citizens including former police commissioner Gary Griffith.
However, speaking on the TTPS’s Beyond the Tape television programme on Monday, Jacob denied that the officers acted in a high-handed manner.
“The police followed our use of force policy as required, they use all the expression, they made all the efforts to disperse the crowds and even though the crowds had dispersed at some point, a core group of persons insisted that they were not moving and the officers did what was required according to our standard operating procedures, they are properly trained and followed all the training and methods that they have learned in order to deal with the crowd control and in those particular circumstances,” Jacob said.
Jacob also said the officers of the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) did not need his permission to deploy the tear gas and denied that officers’ actions were politically motivated.
“I’m stunned. You realise that I am staying a while to respond because I just cannot understand where that is coming from,” Jacob said.
“Where is the politics in it where persons chose to find some cracks within the law and try to do illegal activities and the police went about taking the relevant action?” Jacob said.