Having found that the constitutional rights of four citizens were breached following their arrest by members of the Guyana Police Force, High Court Judge Priya Sewnarine-Beharry on Monday awarded them $10.5 million in damages along with $250,000 in court costs.
The Claimants, Storm Fausette; his two sons, Shaquille Fausette; Shakeif Fausette; and Daryl Medas (the first, second, third and fourth name Claimants respectively), filed a lawsuit claiming that they were wrongly imprisoned and subject to inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of ranks of the Police Force.
In their action, they named former Commissioner of Police Leslie James, Detective Watson, Officer Semple and the Attorney General as Defendants.
According to the factual background of the case, on January 30, 2018, Storm accompanied by his brother took his son, Shaquille at School of the Nations to pay fees, and from there went to China Trading, Robb Street, Georgetown where they purchased floral supplies for Storm’s business.
Around 2:30pm the said day, Storm picked up his younger son, Shakeif, aged five, from the New Guyana School. Storm then dropped off his brother and two sons at the home of Medas situated at 524 Kisskadee Drive South Ruimveldt Gardens, Georgetown and then proceeded to Festival City, North Ruimveldt, Georgetown where he met one Richardson.
He then returned to Medas’ residence from where he collected his children and proceeded to their home at Diamond, East Bank Demerara in motor vehicle PTT 2261.
Whilst in the vicinity of Industrial Site, Ruimveldt, Georgetown, a party of policemen, including Detective Watson and Officer Semple intercepted the vehicle. Storm and his older son, Shaquille were searched. His five-year-old son remained in the car which was subsequently searched.
Nothing of evidential value was unearthed by the searches. Storm and his older son were instructed to hand over their cell phones, and they compiled.
According to court documents seen by this publication, Storm was then instructed to retrace the stops he made earlier that day and to drive to the home of Medas.
On arrival, the home and car belonging to Medas were searched. The persons of Medas and two male occupants of his home were also searched. The searches again revealed nothing of evidential value and their cell phones were seized.
The five-year-old child was then dropped off at his grandmother, while Storm, his older son and Medas was escorted to the East La Penitence Police Station and then to the Diamond Police Station. Whilst at the latter, they were placed in the lockups – a dark cubicle measuring 6 time nine feet which carried a strong stench of human faeces and urine.
When Storm and his older son enquired about the reason for their detention, police gave them varying responses such as, “it was a normal stop and search”; police got dem wuk to do” and “it is a pending investigation.”
When Medas enquired why his home was being searched without a warrant, a police rank told him, “we is de police and we could search ya house” and “we got orders from the bigger ones to search this house.”
The trio contend that numerous requests by them to speak with their lawyer and for refreshments were denied by the Police. They also claim that Police behaved in a most disrespectful, uncouth and unprofessional manner and caused them embarrassment, loss and damage.
Having regards to the foregoing, the Claimants filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that their fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 139(1), 141 and 142 of the Constitution were violated by the Defendants; damages for wrongful deprivation of liberty; damages for inhuman and degrading punishment; and aggravated/ exemplary damages in excess of $10M.
The Defendants contend that due to a spree of robberies committed on persons leaving the Bank of Nova Scotia at Robb Street, Georgetown, the area was under surveillance by ranks from the Special Branch Unit.
“Further when persons are seen acting in a suspicious manner ranks from the Special Branch will trail the intended person(s)/vehicle(s) at a distance and relate the information to the Operations Room which would then relate the information to the closest patrol in the vicinity,” the Defendants further contend.
The Defendants argued that the patrol would then intercept the suspected persons/vehicles and conduct searches on their persons, vehicles and homes. The suspects would then be detained, profiled, interviewed and possibly placed on an identification parade.
According to the Defendants, on January 30, 2018, Storm and the occupants of his vehicle were seen acting in a suspicious manner in the vicinity of the bank. As a result, the Defendants said they were trailed and intercepted at Industrial Site Ruimveldt.
The Defendants therefore admitted that they stopped, searched, arrested and detained the Claimants and took their property into custody for continuing investigations. What they failed to address was the contentions of the Claimants that they were subjected to inhuman and degrading punishment.
Justice Sewnarine-Beharry found that a mere order from a superior officer to arrest a particular person cannot constitute reasonable grounds for such suspicion. In this regard, the Judge found that the Defendants failed to establish reasonable suspicion to justify the detention and arrest of the Claimants.
The Judge therefore found that the Claimants were unlawfully detained and deprived of their liberty by the Defendants. She further found that they were unlawfully and unjustifiably deprived of their property and subject to inhuman and degrading punishment.
“I find that the Claimants’ fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 139(1), 141 and 142 were contravened by the [Defendants],” Justice Sewnarine-Beharry underscored. The Judge noted that as a result of the Police rank’s action, Storm, his older son and Medas would have lost time, while his five-year-old son “would have been undoubtedly traumatised seeing the police arrest his father and brother.”
According to the Judge, the Police ranks took the trio on a “drive of shame”, stating that the Police driver instructed Detective Watson to drive through the busy areas and pass by Shaquille’s school to ensure that his teaches and classmates saw him.
Further, Officers Watson and Semple instructed the Claimants to wash their hands in a drain as running water was noy available, in order for their fingerprints to be taken. Justice Beharry noted that when Shaquille threatened to sue, Detective Watson warned him that he would wait outside of his school and also told him “duh is how y’all body does get find and ya murder does be a mystery.”
When upbraided by Medas that he should not speak to a young boy in that manner, Detective Semple threatened, “If I ever see you down the road I’m going to bore you up or chop yuh sk4$#t up. Is cutlass I does roll with, you lucky me int had lil drugs fuh plant in ya house and loss you away in prison fuh life.”
In closing, Justice Sewnarine-Beharry echoed the sentiments expressed by Justice Peter Rajkumar.
“The duty of courts in a democracy which subscribes to the recognition, protection and enforcement of basic standards of treatment of its citizens, requires condemnation of high handed and oppressive actions behaviour and conduct of the servants or agents of the State lest they be condoned, encouraged systematized and perpetuated.”
Against this backdrop, the High Court Judge awarded $10.5 million in damages to the Defendants. This includes exemplary and compensatory damages. Court Costs to the Claimants were awarded in the sum of $250,000 to be by the Defendants jointly/severally on or before November 18, 2020.