Ex-inmate loses prison beating lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad

A Princes Town man who claimed he was beaten by prison guards at the Frederick Street prison in Port of Spain in April 2020 has lost his lawsuit against the State.

On Monday, Stephen Boodoo was ordered by Justice Frank Seepersad to pay the cost of the failed assault and battery claim after a one-day trial at the Waterfront Judicial Centre.

In an oral decision, Seepersad said Boodoo failed to support his claim with evidence.

He said the case was heavily dependent on facts and there were two polarised positions of them.

Seepersad said he had to determine if Boodoo was assaulted by the prison officers or behaved in such a manner that required them to intervene, act in self-defence and use reasonable force.

While he found the officers to have minor contradictions in their evidence, he said having seen them in person, the court was disinclined to accept Boodoo’s version since the officers were huge, heavy-set and well-built compared to the former inmate’s slim build.

‘His injuries would have been more extensive.”

Boodoo testified he was beaten with an iron paddle after he asked for an extra serving of fish during feeding time.

He claimed prison officer Anton Buckmire overheard him complain about a hair on a plate and told him to move in a loud and aggressive tone.

This, he said, led to an exchange between them with the prison officer continuing to curse at him. He said Buckmire went to the kitchen and brought out two iron paddles, using one to strike him, breaking his right arm.

Boodoo said the prison officer took the paddle back to the kitchen and returned to punish him on the face and body.

Another prison officer allegedly intervened, holding Boodoo in a bear hug while Buckmire continued to hit him.

He said the other officer who held him, prison officer Randolph Franklyn, spun him around and broke his nose with a single strike while a third officer, Victor Prescott, grabbed him, threw him to the ground, and then helped him up while telling him to wash off the blood from his nose. He was taken to the infirmary.

Boodoo was taken to the hospital the next day and said he spent two months recuperating in his cell.

In cross-examination by the State’s attorney Jayanti Teeluckdharry, Boodoo denied using obscene language and threatening to kill Buckmire and Franklyn when he came out of prison or punching the officers.

He also denied pleading guilty to prison charges of inciting other inmates or disobeying instructions.

Also testifying were Buckmire, Franklyn, Prescott and the former prison supervisor Denzel Singh.

They insisted Boodoo was the aggressor, disrespectful and unruly. They claimed a fall led to his injuries.

Buckmire said “diet times,” when inmates are fed, was one of the most dangerous periods in prison since the ratio of inmates to prison officers was 11 to five.

He said Boodoo was told to remove himself from the line after he asked for more food to allow the other inmates to get their meal. He denied having a metal paddle or using one.

In his ruling, Seepersad said it was more probable that Boodoo’s broken arm and nose were a result of his fall.

“There was no reason to disregard the prison officers’ version,” the judge said. He also said he accepted that Boodoo had, that day, failed to take his medication for depression, was possibly agitated and had misbehaved.

“It was a volatile situation… It only takes a spark to get the fire burning that could have led to a serious riot,” he said.

He said the evidence pointed to Boodoo being the aggressor and misbehaving on the day, as well as the officers not using weapons or batons in the scramble with the inmate.

Seepersad sent a message to the authorities for functional cameras in the various prisons while he also acknowledge there appeared to be a decrease in the number of prison brutality cases which could suggest there has been some improvement behind prison walls.

“Functional cameras can assist in this regard.”