Thursday, February 22, 2018

Police association head calls for probe

Port of Spain High Court master queries similar witness statements by inmates

Part II

(Part I appeared last Sunday)  


President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Insp Anand Ramesar is calling on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to launch an enquiry, following recent statements by a High Court master.

Ramesar, in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday afternoon, said the statements uttered by Master Patricia Sobion-Awai during a civil hearing on February 17, 2014  are cause for concern.

Last week, the Sunday Express high­lighted the 24-page written ruling

of Sobion-Awai, in which she presided over an assessment matter involving prison inmate Jamal Sambury.

Evidence produced by the State showed several segments of Sam­bu­ry’s statement mirrored that of a past successful claimant, Jamal Fortune.

Following the disclosure in court, Sobion-Awai called for an inves­tiga­-

tion to be launched into the cir­cum­-

stances surrounding how Sambu­ry was able to replicate large segments of statements of successful litigants who won their matters before the High Court.

According to Ramesar, if the state­­­­ments were copied then, “these situa­tions are unfortunate and have done a great disservice to hard-working police officers and, in many instances, have left great distaste”.

He said when such assault and battery matters are called before the courts, the claims made by the indi­viduals in custody injure the integrity and professional character of many  hard-working police officers.

“The circumstances as revealed are sufficiently important and connected to an organisation whose

integrity must be protec­ted.”

Ramesar said it is in this context, the asso­cia­tion is calling on Persad-Bissessar, in her capacity as head of the National Security Council, “to call an imme­diate enquiry into these matters, with a view to identify and cri­minally treat with any perpetrator of this gross misconduct”.

Also speaking with the Sunday Express, on condition of anonymity, was a former prison commissioner, who said: “The statements of many inmates were grossly exaggerated and painted my then officers in a negative light.”

The former commissioner said the

circumstances outlined in several affi­­-

davits tendered to the courts on behalf of inmates “were starkly diffe­rent from my officers’ recount”.

“I fully support the master’s call for an investigation,” he said.

Efforts to contact president of the Prison Association Cheron Richards were unsuccessful as calls to his cell-phone went unanswered. Messages left were not returned.

Within the last ten years, over $10 million in

compensation was paid to prison inmates—both on Death Row and Re­-

mand Yard—and mem­bers of the public, the Sunday Express was told. 

The damages, tallied with other costs, resulted from wrongful arrests, assault and battery, un­lawful detention, mali­cious prosecution and a series of other infractions.

At the civil hearings, both police and prison officers were implicated.

According to court doc­uments, on October 8, 2010, Sambury was at a holding cell in the Princes Town Ma­gistrates’ Court when he was assaul­ted by police officers.

Sambury, through his attorney, Gerald Ramdeen, subsequently sued the Office of the Attorney General for

damages, following injuries he sus­tained during the assault by the officers.

By consent (the State accepted lia­bility), judgment on liability was entered against the office of the AG, with damages to be assessed.

Signed statements were tendered by Sambury, and the State applied to

the master to have the entire claim struck out as it viewed the com­pen­sa­-

tion claim as an abuse of process. The State contended several discrepancies came to its attention, including what

it contended was the copying of pre­vi-

ously successful claimant’s statements.

Sobion-Awai did not strike out Sambury’s application, however, she  ruled Sambury pay the State’s costs, totalling $15,000.

Evidence produced by the State showed several segments of Sam­bu­-

ry’s statement mirrored that of a past successful claimant—Jamal For­tune.

Sunday Express investigations have shown inmates Rodney Samaroo, Jamal Fortune, Kernell Sealy and Sam­bury all had similarly worded state­ments, despite their incidents occurring years apart and involving different prison and police officers.

The statements have helped Sealy to be awarded $120,000; Samaroo, $90,000; and Fortune, $165,142.

The State then appealed the mas­ter’s refusal to strike out Sambury’s application while Ramdeen cross-appealed on the issue of payment of costs.

The Court of Appeal dismissed both appeals and agreed with the master’s decision on both issues.

The appeal panel also ruled while Sambury had clearly committed an abuse of process of the court, the assess­ment of damages could still be carried out fairly.

This assessment will take place on May 21, in the Port of Spain High Court, before the master.

The ruling

In delivering a 24-page ruling last month, Master Sobion-Awai said: “In this case, I found the claimant (Sambury) was guilty of abuse of the process of the court, in so far as he had copied extensively from the witness statement of another litigant.”

“Apart from the sheer volume of the material that is common to both witness statements, when one analyses it quantitatively, it was clear that this was not mere coincidence. There was a quite deliberate exercise of ‘cut and paste’ undertaken to create the claimant’s witness statement from the earlier statement,” the master stated.

Sobion-Awai further said: “To my mind, it was implausible that two persons could experience separate events involving different persons in such an identical manner. Moreover, when one looked at the shared grammatical errors, phrasing and sequence of events, the similarities were so startling that the only reasonable conclusion was that the claimant copied and presented as his own sizable portions of the witness statement of Jamal Fortune.”