Thursday, January 18, 2018

Judges raised concerns in 2008

Alleged prison litigation ploy

As far back as 2008, judges have been raising concern about exaggerated, inconsistent and fabricated brutality claims by prisoners against prison officers.

The most recent has come from Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in the case of Jamal Sambury who was represented by attorney Gerald Ramdeen.

In a Statement of Case for Sambury dated April 29, 2011, signed by Ramdeen and attorney Varun Debideen, a series of injuries including broken and fractured ribs, bruises and swelling about the body are noted.

Sobion-Awai in her February 5, 2014,  ruling states: “In the Statement of Case, many of the injuries listed in the particulars of injuries were not supported by medical evidence. Examples of injuries not mentioned in the medical reports included broken and fractured ribs, bruises and welt marks all over the body, tender swelling to the head, face and chest and extensive scars over his body.”

Sobion-Awai said Sambury’s witness statement dated February 25, 2013, referred to fractured ribs and bruises and swelling about the body as a result of the beating.

“In contradiction to the medical report dated June 20, 2012, the Claimant stated that since the accident he occasionally suffered pains to his right ear and sometimes experienced a loss of hearing in that ear and fluid frequently ran from it causing him pain. The report of June 20, 2012 stated that the Claimant had perfect ear functions.”

The master said she rejected the submission that the medical evidence substantially supported all of the injuries alleged in the claim and witness statement to have been sustained.

“The inconsistency between the medical evidence and the Claimant’s alleged injuries reinforced my finding that the Claimant copied portions of his witness statement and exaggerated his claim to get a larger award.”

Prior to this ruling, on August 30, 2013, then Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell by-passed her line minister Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and wrote to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar expressing concern.

Under the heading “Lawyers acting for the State also representing prisoners”, the former SG noted it had been brought to her attention that there had been evidence of “cut and paste” of injuries for different victims claiming assault and battery.

Sunday Express investigations have revealed that the State has spent over $10 million in compensation to prisoners on Death Row, Remand Yard and also members of the public for alleged abuse suffered at the hands of law enforcement agents (police and prison officers).

While some of the claims may have been genuine, in several instances, such claims are littered with inconsistencies, exaggeration and fabrication from both the claimant and defendant, court records have shown.

Checks by the Sunday Express revealed that cases dating back to 2008 were questionable ,in that, several judges expressed concern over the disparity of what claimants listed in their witness statements and what was contained in the medical reports.

A former commissioner of prisons who did not want to be named told the Sunday Express: “The conditions of the prisons where my officers served is a recipe for chaos. Something needs to be done.”

The former chief said during his tenure, there was a slew of lawsuits against his officers the majority of which were instigated by the inmates.

“My officers used the necessary force to quell any disturbance and they are accused of assault and battery. That is wrong,” he said.

The former chief said in few cases his officers used excessive  force  and  they have faced an internal disciplinary committee.

He said inmates are in possession of cell phones and he has witnessed on numerous occasions after an inmate has been chastised, within a matter of two hours his attorney appears.

“You have inmates who probably get a scrape or firm lash and when you look at court documents they say fractured this and fractured that, ear pains and cannot sleep at night,” he said.

Adding that when cases are won by the inmates newspapers are available to them, the former commissioner said: “The inmates now know who to contact when they want representation. It’s a thriving business.”

Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow also said he is concerned about the claims being made by prisoners against his officers.

In a brief interview, Barrow told the Sunday Express: “You will always be concerned for any matter. The fact that there is a matter coming before the court, you will be concerned.

“Once there is a matter concerning the prison I am concerned.”

Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Gerard Gordon, said there needs to be an understanding of the environment in which his officers are exposed.

He said his officers risk their lives on a daily basis when dealing with inmates.

Listing  the deaths of his officers in the past and even those who have been attacked during and off duty, Gordon said his association will continue to represent officers and ensure their concerns are not swept under the carpet.

Past judgments

On May 15, 2013, Justice Vasheist Kokaram in delivering a judgment against Affoyon Xavier noted: “As I have indicated earlier, this judgment should not end here. The fabrication of an assault and battery against prison officers one of whom was not there at the time deserves further investigation by the relevant prison authorities”.

Kokaram was  presiding over a claim for damages for assault and battery made by Xavier against officers at the Maximum Security State Prison at Golden Grove.

Xavier was represented by Ramdeen and instructed by Varun Debideen and Rachael Jaggernauth, while attorney Kashka Hemans instructed by Tricia Dyer appeared for the State.

Xavier in his claim said on November 4, 2011, he was assaulted and beaten by four prison officers.

In Xavier’s Statement of Case he lists  broken jaw, broken chin bone, swelling and bruises to face, ribs, feet, head, under right shoulder and left knee, severe pain in jaw, bruises about the body, welt marks, blue black marks all over the body and also being unable to eat for a week.

Kokeram said: “The Claimant (Xavier) paints a picture of a merciless unprovoked attack unleashed by the foursome in a narrow corridor of four feet with batons and a notebook while the Claimant was handcuffed resulting in multiple body injuries with the most serious being a fractured jaw and chin.”In his evidence he gives the impression of writhing in pain with swollen limbs while at the hospital....the nurses’ notes were meticulous in its detailed reporting and frequently the nurse will report the Claimant was resting comfortably. This was not a person writhing in pain”.

On April 26, 2010, Nathan Straker was involved in an altercation with two other prisoners in his cell.

Through his attorneys Ramdeen and  Debideen, he sued the State seeking damages.

In his statement he said he suffered severe welt marks about his body, severe pain and lacerations about the body, headaches and blackouts among other injuries.

Justice Rickey Rahim on May 16, 2013, in a nine-page ruling stated: “...while soft tissue injuries could no doubt be considered as minor, certainly lacerations about his body would be considered more than mere minor injury. Therefore in the court’s view there is an irreconcilable inconsistency in the claim as regards the injuries sustained”.

On December 14, 2012, Justice Peter Rajkumar in a 27-page ruling against Romeo Grannum said: “There is clearly a great disparity between the Claimant’s and Defendant’s versions of the same event”.

Romeo was represented by Ramdeen and Debideen.

Grannum in his witness statement said on August 19, 2010, he was attacked without provocation after being asked to remove a bandana from his wrist.

Rajkumar said: “The incident the claimant describes is horrific. Indiscriminate use of force applied by a riot stave to the head had the potential to cause serious, possibly fatal injury. An attack which resulted in pain and blood loss described is one which could not possibly be justified by self-defence.

I find that less force was used on the Claimant than he claims. I have no doubt that the Claimant has significantly exaggerated the extent of his alleged injuries, which are not corroborated by the documentary evidence, or by any evidence whatsoever.”