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3 awarded $137,250 for wrongful arrest by 'over-zealous' cops

By Nikita Braxton-Benjamin nikita.braxton@trinidadexpress.com

THREE friends arrested by "over-zealous" police officers have been awarded over $130,000 after suing the State for falsely detaining them for eight hours.

In making his order, Justice James Aboud said the desire to fight crime should not descend into a war on law-abiding citizens, but rather, such a war should be fought against the right people.

In statements filed before the San Fernando High Court by defence attorneys Kevin Ratiram and Haresh Ramnath, the claimants—Arnold Seales, Ashton Ramkissoon and David Pustam —said that around 11 p.m. on March 17, 2005, they and another man were stopped by police officers at Lord Street, San Fernando, as they were driving the wrong way along the one-way street.

Pustam said they were all from Palo Seco and were unfamiliar with San Fernando but were in the area on that day to take part in a cricket match.

Pustam said they were driving along Lord Street in search of a place to purchase food.

He said when the officers stopped them, they were told to exit the vehicle one at a time, then they were searched. Their white Nissan B14 vehicle was also searched.

He said nothing was found but a male police officer asked him about a gun.

More police officers arrived and the men said they were handcuffed, taken to the San Fernando Police Station and placed in cells.

Pustam said around midnight they were again handcuffed and were taken to a cell at the Chaguanas Police Station.

"Around 4.15 a.m. (on March 18, 2005) a police officer who identified himself as Officer Mohammed of the Robbery Squad came to the cell area and told us that around 11 a.m. we would be placed on an identification parade and that we could only get to make a call in the morning," he said.

Pustam said around 7.30 a.m, Mohammed took them to the Criminal Investigations Department in Chaguanas and "informed me that the police had in fact arrested the wrong person and my friends and I were free to go now".

Pustam said he remembered the officers saying, "Go home and take a rest, allyuh fellas like allyuh won't even pick up a sweetie."

Seales said he and his friends had been in custody for eight-and-a-half hours.

The men then went to the Freeport Police Station where they collected the B14 car which had been dropped at the police station after experiencing mechanical difficulties on route to Chaguanas. They then went home.

The police submitted documents stating the men who were pulled over as suspects involved in a robbery at a bar at Chase Village, Freeport, were neither handcuffed nor placed in cells at the police stations.

PC Hadeed Mohammed said the identification parade was not done at the Chaguanas Police Station as no inspector was present.

He said he never told Pustam that he was wrongfully arrested but rather said the three were in the "wrong place at the wrong time".

He said, "Although the four men's description was similar to that of the four suspects involved in the robbery, the claimant (Pustam) and the three other men were released because of their satisfactory accounts of their whereabouts and location at the time the robbery was committed and they had no previous criminal history and outstanding warrants."

Justice Aboud said the description of the criminal suspects recorded in the police station diary suggested that at the time of the robbery their faces were covered.

The judge said he was unable to understand how the police could say Seales, Ramkissoon and Pustam matched the descriptions of the robbers.

He said the police appeared to have arrested the three through "over-zealousness" and ordered that the State pay each man $25,000 in damages, along with six per cent interest per year from May 23 2005, the date of the filing of the lawsuit.

Costs in the sum of $9,500 is also to be paid to each.

A total of $137,250 will be handed over.

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