(ANTIGUA OBSERVER) – At least two men who were detained last week are threatening to sue the state over the inhumane conditions at the detention cells at the St. John’s Police Station.
An attorney-at-law has joined in calling out the authorities for neglecting police stations across the country.
Brandon Christian, who was held in one of the cells for three and a half days last week, told OBSERVER media on Sunday that he had fallen ill as a result of staying in ‘filthy’ cells.
Christian said he was arrested when he went to make a report about a misunderstanding with a female last Tuesday. He said he was, however, told by the officers that he was being arrested for battery on a police officer at the station where he had gone to file his report.
He also said he is still baffled as to why the officer treated him the way he did.
“The officer told me to stand up which I did with my hands below my legs nice and calm. I asked if there were any other officers in charge that could have dealt with me because I was uncomfortable with him [the officer on duty]. He told me to shut up and starting to push me into the cell,” Christian said.
The 30-year-old man also explained that he had to plead with the officers to get the one phone call detainees are allowed and to be granted, visitors.
“They did not want anybody to bring food for me up there, that was how bad it was. I went to church before I went to file the report and I broke down and cried after seeing how cruel people is in this world. I already told my lawyer that I will be suing the state,” Christian explained further.
Christian is not the only one raising concern about the inhumane conditions at the station.
Another young man who was also in custody last week, and who was released without charge, said the cells and washrooms reek of urine and faeces and they’re infested with rats, cockroaches and other insects.
The man said that the conditions under which he was held, have left him with indigestion, pain in several parts of his body and difficulty breathing. He also said that his doctor has found that he now has a bacterial infection, his chest and throat are inflamed and he too has difficulty breathing.
That detainee said that he did not want his name to be made public because he is afraid of victimisation from the police.
He told our newsroom that since his release after spending three days in lockup, the arresting officer has again approached him and he is worried.
A video highlighting the inhumane conditions of the detention cells at the police station has also gone viral on Facebook. A social media user called Dat-Boy recorded the video which was shared over three hundred times.
The narrator of the video pointed to food boxes that are being used by the detainees as a toilet because the toilets are filthy and clogged. The water flooding the washrooms is very dark and the waste matter can be seen floating in it.
Meanwhile, attorney Warren Cassell, who also weighed in on the matter, said the constitutional rights of detainees are being breached.
“I have been saying constantly to some of my colleagues that the conditions of the cells at the St. John’s Police Station, in particular, is deplorable and is not fit for human beings. In my opinion, it violates section seven of the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda – that says no person should be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment,” the lawyer asserted.
Cassell said he currently has five people who were held under the filthy conditions who want to sue the government and he is confident that if the class action suit is filed, the applicants would win significant monetary compensation.
Meanwhile, as a lawsuit looms over the filthy conditions at the St. John’s Police Station, the minister responsible for public safety, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said he was unaware that the problem was so grave.
The minister said he only learnt about the situation when he was contacted by OBSERVER media for a comment.
Benjamin said he would speak with his colleague, Maria Bird-Browne who was appointed Minister of State in the Ministry of Public Safety, Legal Affairs and Labour.
“She will be there to look after all persons in the public safety division and to make sure that people who are kept overnight or questioned, will have accommodations which are fit. I am going to address this matter immediately,” Benjamin promised.
OBSERVER media also contacted the prime minister, Gaston Browne, on the matter.
Browne said he has spoken with Benjamin and it was agreed that the Central Board of the Health (CBH) and Public Works Department will be called in to clean and conduct the necessary repairs at the cells at the station.
He also revealed that the matter will be discussed in Cabinet on Wednesday as it relates to allocating funds to get the work done immediately.
A CBH official, who does not have the authority to speak, also informed our newsroom that the conditions are bad enough to warrant the shutdown of the area until it is properly cleaned and sanitised.
The health official said the conditions pose a serious risk to the health of detainees and police officers and people on the outside with whom they interact.
That official said the statutory body was also out of the loop until this newspaper reached out on Sunday to enquire what would be done. The individual said by Monday, something should at least be reported to the acting Chief Health Inspector, Sharon Martin, who we were unable to contact.
A month ago, when the police officers at that station complained about the same conditions, the Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said he would spend his personal money to do some of the repairs.
He was criticised for this when he spoke about it publicly and he later said two local businessmen had come forward to assist.