Trinidad: Cop ordered to repay beating victim $5,000 in 48 hrs

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Trinidad: Cop ordered to repay beating victim $5,000 in 48 hrs
BODY CAMERAS NEEDED: Justice Frank Seepersad
BODY CAMERAS NEEDED: Justice Frank Seepersad

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – A police officer has been ordered to repay within 48 hours thousands of dollars from his own pocket to a man who won the action he brought against the officer after he was beaten at the Mayaro Police Station in 2011.

Justice Frank Seepersad said the judgment will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police to determine if criminal charges should be brought against constables Murray Mohammed and Ronnie Edwards.

The judge commented that there was a war raging within the Police Service.

Speaking during the matter at the San Fernando High Court yesterday, Seepersad said: “It is evident that in this society there is not only a war which is unfolding by criminals on the streets of this Republic, but there is clearly a war raging within the Police Service, where there are errant, dishonest and criminally-inclined police officers who are bringing the Service into disrepute and who are causing irreparable harm and damage to the public’s confidence in the Police Service, and therefore the war against crime has to be fought both internally in the Police Service and externally with the criminal element which abounds.”

Safety officer Clint Attong, 35, of San Fernando, had brought action against Mohammed and Edwards, the Attorney General as their legal representative, and Premchan Sookram, Attong’s supervisor at the company he then worked at.

In court documents, Attong said he was employed with a Mayaro company and learnt of a plan to hurt Sookram, and also the company’s general manager.

He told Sookram about the text messages and agreed to meet him on October 29, 2011 in Rio Claro as he (Attong) was on his way to purchase a dog. He said he did not know where Sookram lived, never made threats to harm his son or asked him for money.

While waiting on his boss, a white Nissan Wingroad pulled in front of him with two men who Attong later learnt were officers Mohammed and Edwards from the Mayaro Police Station.

Attong said Edwards placed a gun on the hood of the car and told him not to move, while Murray took away his two cell phones.

He was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of the car until a Toyota Hilux arrived, driven by Sookram. Attong was put into the back seat. As they headed to the Mayaro Police Station, Attong said he was still handcuffed and was punched by Mohammed to the left side of his face.

Mohammed also placed his hand inside Attong’s pants pocket and took the $5,000 he had to purchase the dog.

The officer also placed a gun on his thigh, Attong said.

At the police station, he was taken to a room where he was beaten about the body with a PVC hose while still handcuffed.

Attong said he was struck on his back and hands by Mohammed and another man while Edwards looked on.

He also said that Sookram took off his leather slipper and struck him in his face, telling him he had to sign a document.

Attong said Mohammed later struck him with a stick with a bulge and also had a firearm placed in front of him as he was threatened to sign a piece of paper. Attong said his hands were shaking and he was seeing blurry but he signed. He said he was then given $202 and his two cell phones. His $5,000 was not returned.

Attong said he ran out of the police station and flagged down a car which was driven by Devon Jones. He asked to be taken to the Princes Town Police Station, where his report was not taken. He instead made a report to the Police Complaints Authority.

Attong said he went to a doctor and San Fernando General Hospital.

He suffered a blow to the stomach, was hit on the left ear, sustained multiple bruises and experienced pain to his back, arms and upper abdomen. He also said that he was humiliated, embarrassed and terrorised from the time he was arrested until his release. He said the five-hour long ordeal was to the detriment of his career and his reputation was tarnished.

Attong brought Jones as a witness in the matter.

In his defence, Mohammed, a police officer since 2010, said on that day in 2011, he was working at the Mayaro Police Station and did not leave the station.

He said Attong came to the station to inform that he knew of a plot to kidnap his boss’s son for ransom.

Mohammed said he questioned Attong as to whether he was involved and he did not answer. He also told him that he might be arrested because of the plot.

Mohammed said after Attong gave the statement, he (Attong) left the police station while he continued on sentry duty.

Sookram, in his witness statement, said Attong told him about a “hit” that was out for him and the general manager and that if he wanted further information he had to pay him a sum of money.

Sookram said he made a report to the police who told him to contact them when next Attong called. Sookram said he did such on October 29, 2011 and identified Attong to them and assisted to take him and two officers to the Mayaro police station.

He said he then left.

Seepersad said: “The factual matrix which unfolded and the fact-finding that the court engaged in in this matter instils in this court a sense of grave disquiet and alarm. I am appalled that to date no disciplinary action has been taken against PC Murray Mohammed.

“I am even more appalled that no decision has been taken as to whether or not to charge this officer with criminal offences, particularly the offence of kidnapping and robbery, and I will direct the registrar of the Supreme Court to send the transcript of these proceedings and of this court’s judgment to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the Commissioner of Police for their determination as to whether, respectively, criminal charges should be instituted against Murray Mohammed and Edwards and whether disciplinary charges…ought to be laid against Murray Mohammed…

“This court is astounded that an officer who could have behaved in the manner in which I have found as a fact that Murray behaved on the 29th October, 2011, could be charged with the responsibility as he says he is currently attached to the Special Investigations Unit of the TTPS…

“The court is also of the view that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police need to look at the circumstances involving the fourth named defendant, Premchan Sookram, to make a determination as to why a civilian would have paid to a police officer money on the 29th October, 2011 to engage in the behaviour which Murray and Edwards engaged in on that particular day.”

The judge also said every police station should have working and operational CCTV cameras “so that there will be a constant monitoring of all the events which unfold at police stations”.

He also called for body cameras for every police officer who leaves the station, to allow for “simultaneous recording of their behaviour and their interactions with members of the public…such a system will protect both the public and the police officers. When technology is available and when clearly the resources are available to finance the acquisition of the relevant technology, there is absolutely no justification for the lack of implementation other than a fear by persons who engage in errant behaviour from being recorded when they discharge their obligations in a manner in which they ought not to discharge them.”

Damages to claimant

The judge found: “There should be judgment in favour of the claimant against the defendants for damages for assault and battery which was occasioned upon the claimant on 29th October, 2011 at the Rio Claro Naparima/Mayaro Main Road and at the Mayaro Police Station. The court also finds that damages for false imprisonment for a period of five hours is to be paid to the claimant. The quantum of damages is to be assessed by a master in chambers. The court is also of the view that the master ought to consider the award of aggravating and exemplary damages.”

Seepersad also made a “personal order” against Mohammed to repay Attong within 48 hours of the court’s decision, the sum of $5,000 with interest accruing thereon at a rate of three per cent per annum from the date of the filing of the court documents on October 28, 2015.

Cost is to be determined based on the quantum of damages assessed by a master when the assessment exercise is completed.

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