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Magistrate: Jail was the safest place

Sued by woman for wrongful imprisonment...

By Gyasi Gonzales gyasi.gonzales@trinidadexpress.com

AN Arima magistrate yesterday testified he had no choice but to send a then 17-year-old girl to Golden Grove Women’s Prison, as he felt at the time it would have been the safest place for her, given her circumstances.

Magistrate Indar Jagroo testified before Justice Peter Rajcoomar in the Port of Spain Sixteenth Court, as he defended his actions of February 2011, when he ordered the girl—Anisha Mason, now aged 20—be sent to the women’s prison, as he feared for her safety on the outside.

Mason is now suing the magistrate for wrongful imprisonment. Appearing for her are attorneys Ancil Moses and Garvin Ferrette.

A team of attorneys led by Seenath Jairam, SC, appeared for Jagroo. 

The court heard that in February 2011, Simon Rodriguez and his wife attempted to take custody of the teenaged Mason by making an application in the Arima Magistrates’ Court.

It was during this application process that Magistrate Jagroo arrived at the conclusion that the girl would have been better off in the prison than outside, following which she was sent to Golden Grove. She was only released in May that year, when a writ of habeas corpus was filed on her behalf.

Mason’s mother died when she was very young and she subsequently lived in foster homes, but at age 17, through a Catholic church in Arima, she met the Rodriguez family, who felt they should apply for custody of the girl.

In May 2011, the Rodriguez fa­mily, through attorney Moses, filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Port of Spain High Court, resulting in Mason being released from prison on the night of May 27, 2011.

In court yesterday, Justice Rajcoomar heard testimony from Simon Rodriguez who, while being cross-examined by Jairam, said he could not recall receiving information that Mason drew a knife and threatened to stab anyone at another home in early February 2011.

He also said he could not recall his wife complaining that Mason was disruptive in their home during the brief time she spent there.

But Rodriguez did admit Mason sometimes played truant with school, but could not say how many days of the week she did not attend.

Magistrate Jagroo, however, defended his actions in February 2011.

During cross-examination from Moses, he said, “As harsh as it may have seemed, Arouca Women’s Prison was the only place available,” and she was sent there until further information was available about her.

He said he tried to get Mason’s elder sister to keep the teenage girl at her own home, but the sister allegedly refused.

“I literally begged a probation officer to talk to Anisha’s sister to see if they would take her, but no,” he said.

When questioned by Jairam with regard to his workload as a magistrate, he said he dealt with 80 to 120 cases on a daily basis at the Arima court.

He said he took it upon himself to try to find a place for her when she came out.

“I mean. I went beyond the call of duty,” he said.

Justice Rajcoomar also questioned Magistrate Jagroo about his workload and his choices with respect to Mason.

He replied, “I did not want to read in the newspaper that, that person was killed after an Arima magistrate set her free because I felt that harm would come to her.”

When asked what was the basis of his thinking that, he replied, “I received some information from my court prosecutor, and the information I received I felt that it would have been safer for her in prison than out, and I felt very strongly about it.”

Asked by Justice Rajcoomar if he (Magistrate Jagroo) would have continued detaining the girl if a suitable home was not found for her, Magistrate Jagroo replied, “I really felt that I had no choice and it was with the heaviest of hearts that I made that decision.”

The matter was then adjourned to May 2 for submissions and then May 9 for replies, if any, to the submissions filed.

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