Court orders compensation for ex-prisoner who refused to smuggle contraband

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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A HIGH Court judge has ordered compensation for a former prisoner who was beaten and slashed about the body by other prisoners who wanted him to be a part of a smuggling operation to bring illegal items into the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca.

The prisoner, Shawn Castle, claimed the two inmates who beat him and cut him with a makeshift blade were facilitated by a prison officer.

Justice Frank Seepersad on Monday ordered the State to pay $75,000 in general damages for assault and battery for the beating he received on June 8, 2019. He also ordered $75,000 in exemplary damages and costs.

In his oral decision after a short hearing at which Castle, the prison’s doctor, and four prison officers testified, Seepersad said he believed the claimant’s testimony over that of the prison officer who was said to have allowed the prisoners into his cell.

In his testimony, Castle said he was only allowed to get medical treatment two days later.

He said he was in so much pain and distress that he had to take three tablets a day for two weeks.

“What occurred could not be described as casual or insignificant,” Seepersad said.

He also found it was plausible that the abrasions on Castle’s body – the doctor said they were minor – could have healed or was “well on the way to being healed.”

He said there was no rational explanation for what occurred and “the fact is he was injured and I do not believe he was visited by some spirit so as to occasion these injuries.”

Seepersad also said it was possible that Castle did not report his injuries earlier because he wanted to wait for an officer he could trust.

Castle said when the gates to the holding cells were unlocked, the prison officer was at the entrance of the cell and escorted his cell mates to the airing yard. He was instructed to stay in the cell. Castle claimed two inmates came into the cell and asked him to be a part of a prison smuggling operation since he was part of the ‘out gang’ that was allowed to leave the prison walls.

He said he was told a prison officer had already dropped the contraband items at the Prison Sports Club and they needed him to work with two other inmates to bring the items into the prison.

After he refused to be part of the illegal operation, he was beaten.

He also said he told another officer of the plot and a search was conducted at the sports club grounds where contraband was found.

After he got painkillers for pain, Castle was transferred from the Arouca facility to the Port of Spain prison.

In his ruling, Seepersad also pointed to the State’s admission that there was a search of Prison Sports Club grounds and contraband was found as Castle said.

He said there was an obvious problem at the prison which would require the involvement of prison officers.

“These things can not fall from the sky into a cell.”

He also said he understood that Castle would be fearful of reprisal attacks for refusing to be part of the illegal operation, adding that the prison officer who allegedly facilitated the attack, had a duty of care which he breached.

“The officer would be under an obligation to ensure the safety of the persons under his charge.”

He also dismissed the State’s claim that Castle fabricated the incident, pointing out that the ex-prisoner was transferred to another facility after he raised his concerns about his safety.

“If it were a complete fabrication why was he moved?”

Seepersad said the case highlighted the need for urgent prison reform, including not only the physical buildings but also the rules and regulations.

“It is unacceptable that the importation of contraband items still continues to pose a threat to security within the prison and to national security as well,” he said as he referred to reports of ‘hits’ being ordered from the prison using illegal cellphones.

Seepersad said in cases like Castle’s prison officers should be made to pay a portion of the court-ordered damages.

“With the country spending billions (in national security) over past decades, it is a shame that we still have outdated regulations and colonial prisons.

“Much more needs to be done.” He also found the prison officer’s conduct to be “reprehensible and dangerous and exposed the system to attack.”

“The complicity cannot go unnoticed and unmentioned,” he said.

Although ruling in Castle’s favour on the assault and battery claim, he dismissed his lawsuit for false imprisonment in the cell while being beaten, saying his detention in prison, at the time, was lawful.

Castle was represented by attorney Joseph Sookoo.