Jamaican wins false imprisonment lawsuit against GPF

Sandra Russell

Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George ruled in favour of Jamaican national Sandra Russell, who had filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Guyana Police Force and the State for false imprisonment.

In 2018, Russell confessed to trafficking 70 grams of marijuana and was sentenced to eight months in prison when she appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts. In the lawsuit, Russell contended that the initial sentence was reduced to three and a half months but she was kept in prison for an additional eight months.

In her ruling today, the Chief Justice ordered that $2.5m be paid to Russell for breach of her right to free movement.

Russell was further awarded $600,000 in damages for being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions while in custody. Moreover, the Attorney General was ordered to pay her $250,000 in costs.

Russell was also ordered deported; the Chief Justice said that she has to stand the cost for deportation and if she cannot do so, then the sum will be deducted from her award for damages.

The Chief Justice also found that Russell was only further detained for five months and not eight as she was contending.

Reports indicate that Russell had arrived in Guyana legally on May 13, 2013.

However, on June 25, 2018, she was arrested by Police ranks at Omai Landing in the Essequibo River after 70 grams of marijuana was found in her possession. She was charged and placed before the court where she pleaded guilty to the offence.

In turn, she was sentenced to eight months in jail and fined $180,000.

Russell, in her Statement of Claim, had said that after the sentence was imposed, she was taken to the New Amsterdam Prison to serve her time.

While doing so, she claimed that her sentence was reduced to three and a half months. She was released from prison on November 10, 2018.

According to her, a female immigration officer then informed her that she would be taken to the Immigration Office to be processed for deportation to Jamaica. However, she said that she was taken to the East La Penitence Police Station instead and was only released on $10,000 bail on July 7, 2019.

While in custody, she said she was never taken before a Judge or Magistrate.

The Jamaican woman complained that the conditions at the East La Penitence Station were poor and she was left without proper and adequate meals which resulted in her being taken to a health centre for medications.

The woman believes that the Police had no authority to keep her in custody beyond 72 hours without seeking an extension from the court given the facts that she had completed serving her sentence.