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Woman shot by cops awarded $330,000

By Keino Swamber keino.swamber@trinidadexpress.com

A High Court judge has awarded more than $300,000 in compensation to a woman for injuries she received when she was shot by police officers who entered her family's home in 2004.

The judge ruled the police officers were negligent and/or reckless in the circumstances.

However, in relation to her husband, the holder of a firearm users' licence who was also shot, the court ruled the officers may have been acting in self-defence.

In an 18-page judgment delivered yesterday in the Port of Spain High Court, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh said the incident was a "most unfortunate" one for Geeta St Clair, her husband, Boodraj St Clair, and the police officers involved.

He said the St Clairs, represented by attorneys Ravi Rajcoomar and Alisa Khan, were shot in close proximity to their children.

"In the course of the events also, two police officers seeking to execute a search warrant were shot by Mr St Clair using his licensed firearm to repel what he thought was an attack by unknown gunmen," Boodoosingh said.

"The injuries of the police officers were not as serious as the St Clairs, but the officers too were in significant danger."

Boodoosingh said police officers undertake considerable risks in their daily work and must be allowed to do their work and be as safe as possible.

"This decision must in no way, therefore, be read as suggesting that police officers are not entitled to use reasonable force or defend themselves in appropriate cases. In fact, the decision of the court is that in relation to the shots fired by Mr St Clair, the police officers shot him in self-defence while using reasonable force."

The incident at the couple's Las Lomas home occurred on July 12, 2004.

The husband gave evidence that he was awakened around 1.45 a.m. by the sound of gunshots accompanied by rapid footsteps and men saying "Spanish, open the f...ing door! Police!" The court was told the front door came crashing down seconds later.

The man said he was unsure of who the men were since they did not identify themselves properly. He said they continued to bang on the bedroom door and then shot at it. He discovered his wife was shot in the leg.

He said, fearing for the safety of his wife and family, he loaded his shotgun and discharged four shots through the back wooden door of his bedroom to scare the men away. Shots were returned and the bedroom was broken into. It was then he saw a man with a gun wearing a police vest with the words "Police" written on it.

Boodraj St Clair said he was ordered to put down the gun and he complied. The officer, the court was told, then fired several shots at the homeowner striking him in both legs. He said he was then taken outside, had a gun placed to his head and was asked for guns and ammunition.

The couple were eventually taken to the Arima Hospital. The husband was transferred to the Port of Spain General Hospital until he was discharged on July 14, 2004.

He was subsequently taken to the Belmont Police Station and eventually allowed to leave without any charges. His wife was shot in her stomach, twice in her right leg, twice in her right hand and once in her upper back.

She underwent emergency surgery and spent 17 days in hospital awaiting surgery on her leg. She went to a private hospital and spent six months lying in bed.

The police officers testified that they had surrounded the house and told the occupants they were in possession of a warrant to search for guns and ammunition.

They said a male voice responded and they were told he was in possession of a licensed firearm and he was instructed to put it down.

The officers, including Al Edwards, Terrence Hamilton Reynold Pope, all of the Firearms Interdiction Unit, said shots were fired from the bedroom.

In his ruling, Boodoosingh said the couple must have been scared and unsure and it was quite possible that they did not know for sure it was police since most of the officers were not in uniform.

He said he accepted the husband's evidence that, at that time, there were a spate of robberies being committed by persons pretending to be police officers.

Boodoosingh said, based on the evidence, he did not accept that the police officers shot Boodraj St Clair after he surrendered his weapon.

"I think it more likely that there was a degree of recklessness in how they managed the events surrounding the entry into the premises."

Geeta St Clair was awarded compensation in the sum of $330,357 plus legal costs in the sum of $54,535.70.

The State was represented by attorneys Josefina Baptiste-Mohammed and Florence Ramdin.

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