Cop loses malicious prosecution claim over protected wildlife

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad

A police officer who was accused of being in possession of two protected birds has lost his malicious prosecution case against the game warden who charged him in 2009.

PC Ramdeo Seepaul, who is now assigned to the St Margaret’s police station, sued the State after the case against him was dismissed in the magistrates’ court in 2017 for want of prosecution.

On Tuesday, Justice Frank Seepersad dismissed Seepaul’s claim, ordering him to pay the State’s costs of defending the matter of $14,000.

Both Seepaul and retired game warden Nicholas Leith, who is also a special reserve police officer, testified at the one-day trial before the judge on Tuesday.

In his ruling, Seepersad said he found Leith to be a convincing witness who was doing nothing more than discharging his work obligations in a fair and measured manner without improper motive.

The judge said the court was satisfied Leith had reasonable and probable cause to institute the two charges against Seepaul for having the young blue and yellow macaw and a yellow-headed parrot, both protected species under the Conservation of Wildlife Act.

While he found the dismissal of the charges against Seepaul in the magistrates’ court odd, he said there was no appeal of that decision, but advised that greater caution should be exercised by inferior courts.

Seepersad also reinforced previous calls he has made for judicial and legislative intervention for malicious prosecution cases, suggesting again that perhaps the court’s permission should first be granted for a claim to progress, since they take up significant portions of judges’ dockets.

Seepersad said it appeared that whenever a criminal charge is dismissed, the automatic step was to file a malicious prosecution claim. He said the evidential burden of such claims was very high and was the most difficult tortious one to succeed on. Seepersad also noted that such claims were intended to protect society and individuals from an abuse of authority.

In his lawsuit, Seepaul alleged Leith acted with malice in charging him.

In his evidence, he insisted when Leith, acting Supt Stephen Ramsubhag and other officers came to his home at Tableland, on April 25, 2009, they did not find any birds in a cardboard box at his home.

Seepaul also claimed he was not shown a search warrant, nor was one read out to him.

In his testimony, Leith said an informant alleged he had been robbed by two police officers, four days before, in Moruga, of 146 bullfinches, 286 picoplats, 18 macaws, 33 parrots, three capuchin monkeys, a hawk, a capybara and 314 pounds of capybara meat which he had brought from Venezuela.

Leith said when he received the call, he told the caller to report the alleged robbery to the police. He admitted the man told him he had paid US$5,000 for the array of animals, and the report did cause him some concern, but the man was not arrested.

Leith said warrants were obtained for three police officers and he accompanied the police to Seepaul’s home as part of the robbery investigation.

He insisted he saw a cardboard box with the parrots and Seepaul claimed he had got the birds from a friend. Leith said he asked if Seepaul had a permit and he said no.

Seepaul also testified he said he had no permit, and denied any birds were found in a box at his home.

The birds were photographed and handed over to the Zoological Society.

Leith insisted there was no malice when he laid the charges.

In his findings, Seepersad said there was no evidence that Leith would fabricate the case against Seepaul.

“He was a warden. He was not living in Moruga. His explanation seems and appears to be credible to the report (of stolen animals).”

Seepaul was represented by attorney Ganesh Saroop. The State was represented by Sharad Raghunath, Soleil Baldeosingh, Tricia Ramlogan and Nairob Smart.