POLICE Constable Judson Mohammed, who was slashed over the eye by a prisoner after he refused to buy doubles for the gang leader, is to be paid more than $40,000 by the State.
In a judgment delivered by Justice Margaret Mohammed, a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) found there were contraventions of the act at the courthouse.
The judge, at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court last Thursday, found that if there were adequate officers and supervision, the risk of injury to the officer would have been minimised.
Court documents stated Mohammed, who at the time had been a police officer for ten years and was attached to the court for about seven months, was responsible for performing duties at the cell block at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court.
On January 14, 2011, the prisoner called out to him and asked him to purchase “some doubles”.
Mohammed refused. He told the prisoner the State would provide him with breakfast.
The prisoner told him: “I go do for you.”
When Mohammed later went to remove two inmates from the cell, the prisoner struck him on the head with a sharp metal object. He fell and there was a struggle between him and the prisoner, and he was slashed above the left eye with the object.
Other prisoners joined in and repeatedly cuffed and kicked the officer. He was rescued by colleagues in a semi-conscious state and was taken to San Fernando General Hospital.
Mohammed’s medical report showed he suffered a three-centimetre wound above his left eye. He suffered pain in his neck and right ear, headaches, dizziness and amnesia.
Mohammed claimed the State was negligent, as it failed to provide him with adequate instructions on safe work practices, particularly in the cell block area; failed to provide sufficient police officers to manage and control the court support unit, and thereby placed the lives of police officers, members of the public, employees and prisoners at risk on a daily basis.
He also said the defendant had caused the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court to be left in a “dangerous condition since it is not in compliance with the OSH Act”.
He said “at all material times, there were no fire extinguishers or fire escape plan or strategy, no adequate anti-riot plan or strategy, no proper first aid equipment or training... inadequate drinking water and toilet facilities for staff and prisoners”.
He also said there was failure to upgrade or maintain the cell block and “prisoners would often break off pieces of metals from the rusting cells, parts of broken light bulbs and broken toilet bowls and use it as weapons to sometimes stab and injure other prisoners”.
‘State failed in its duty’
Constable Mohammed also said the State failed to take reasonable care as to prevent injury or damage to him from working with violent prisoners.
The OSHA report found the State failed to provide a safe system of work and adequate supervision, as proper procedure for the detaining of prisoners was not conducted.
It was also found the employer failed to conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessment, and the employer failed to report the incident. Mohammed made a report to the agency’s hotline.
It also found there was breach of the Police Service Regulations, which state prisoners shall be searched before entering the cell.
The State denied liability in the case. It said it had complied with its duty as an employer to provide a reasonably safe place of work, safe equipment and adequate training and supervision.
The Police Service Regulations state a cell should not be opened by fewer than two officers and the State contended it did not foresee that Constable Mohammed would have opened the cell without the assistance of another police officer who was within walking distance of him, when Mohammed was aware of the threat made to him by the gang leader.
The State called a police officer as its sole witness. He admitted under cross-examination that when there was a shortage of police officers, it was the practice for one police officer to manage more than one prisoner when taking prisoners out of the holding cell.
The judge said: “In my opinion, even if the claimant has been adequately trained, it was highly probable that due to the shortage of police officers, the claimant followed the practice where one police officer and not two was present when a cell was being opened to remove a prisoner.
“Therefore, while the claimant would have been aware of the procedure... the defendant failed in its duty to ensure that there was adequate and competent staff to assist the claimant thereby minimising his risk of injury.”
Justice Mohammed ordered that the State pay the officer $30,000 in general damages with interest, and that special damages, his medical bills which were in the sum of $1,001, also be paid with interest.
The State was also ordered to pay the officer’s costs of $9,250.25.
Constable Mohammed was represented by attorney Saira Lakhan. The State was represented by attorney Ronnelle Hinds, instructed by attorney Kezia Redhead.