(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – A WOMAN who was arrested and detained for several hours in 2016 after officers wrongly believed that she had failed to pay an outstanding $100 on a traffic ticket has been awarded $40,000 by the court.
Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell on Monday ordered the State to pay general damages in the sum of $30,000 and an additional $10,000 in vindicatory damages.
The ruling came after attorneys for Alyssa Morgan filed a constitutional claim against the State following her arrest and detention in August 2016.
That arrest took place around 3.30 a.m. after Morgan and her family members were awakened by the sound of police officers knocking on their front door. The officers later informed Morgan she was being taken into custody because she had failed to pay the traffic ticket in full.
In 2012, Morgan was given a $1,000 ticket for failing to wear a seatbelt while driving. She was given until December 2 that year to pay the ticket, but because that date was a Sunday, Morgan’s mother went to the court the following day.
While there, she informed the staff she could have only paid $900 and that the outstanding $100 would be paid by December 10. She returned to the court that day and in fact paid off the outstanding $100.
However, a warrant had already been issued for Morgan’s arrest.
According to the court documents, when the officers arrived at her home, Morgan said she informed them the ticket had been paid in full. But in spite of this, they failed to make any checks to confirm this.
Instead, they placed her in handcuffs and had her sit in the back of a police vehicle for a number of hours while the officers went to several other areas to carry out other arrests.
Morgan was eventually taken to a police station and placed in a cell.
It was only when her relatives arrived at the station with the receipts they had received after paying the tickets that she was released.
In her ruling, Justice Donaldson-Honeywell said the events of the case reflected gross incompetence both in keeping track of paid fines and in the process of addressing suspected non-payment of a fine for a minor offence.
“The failure of the defendant to put into place a proper system to ensure warrants are recalled, once outstanding fines are paid, caused the unacceptable breach of the claimant’s rights.
“The approach by the police, of seeking, based on the unrecalled warrant to arrest the claimant at a time before dawn, when any response she gave to the allegation that she had not paid the fine could not be verified was also unacceptable,” said the judge.
Morgan was represented by attorneys Farai Hove Masaisai, Issa Jones and Antonya Pierre, while Mary Davis and Nairob Smart appeared on behalf of the State.