Family’s attorney confirms results of private autopsy – Prisoner was beaten to death

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The entrance to the Port of Spain Prison on Frederick Street. – File photo

A SECOND private autopsy, ordered by the relatives of Sherlon Brown – the inmate who died at hospital after a riot at the Port of Spain prison on March 26 – has revealed that he was beaten to death.

The autopsy which was done on April 3 and was witnessed by independent pathologist Dr Hughvon des Vignes, showed Brown, 26, died as a result of multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, including to the head, which are consistent with trauma sustained in a beating.

A source close to the case told Newsday that Brown’s injuries were not consistent with those sustained during a mass brawl.

The source said Brown, who was from Dibe, Long Circular, was likely the victim of a targeted assault as the autopsy showed pattern injuries consistent with being hit repeatedly by a blunt instrument.

Apart from Dr des Vignes, a prison officer and an officer from the Homicide Bureau of Investigations also witnessed the autopsy.

Prison Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar refused to comment on the results saying, “That is a matter in the police hands and I will make no further comment on that.”

He added that the matter is also being investigated by the prison service.

“We have our internal investigation which we must do and the police is doing theirs. So I will have no further comment on that now.”

Attorney Alexia Romero confirmed the autopsy results and told Newsday that Brown’s family, while still deeply grieving, plans to initiate civil action against the prison service.

“His mother is obviously still going through her grief and is struggling to cope and come to terms with what has happened. But she and the rest (of the family) intend to take this further,” Romero said.

She said the TTPS investigation is underway but added the family will pursue its lawsuit simultaneously.

“Whatever the criminal investigation may lead to, we await that, but we are proceeding with the civil aspect in terms of wrongful death…We are awaiting the actual reports and the certificate and so on relative to the autopsy.”

A pre-action protocol letter will be sent to the prison authorities in the coming weeks before the relevant documents are filed with the courts to begin the lawsuit, Romero said.

The attorney revealed that as many as 11 lawsuits could arise out of the riot since – in addition to representing the interests of Brown’s family – there are other prisoners, some of whom she represents, who intend to take legal action.

Brown was on remand, charged for the 2019 murder of Joshua Fortune at Balbaday Hill, Belle Vue Road, St James.

Romero said she was aware of social media comments on Brown’s death but added this case should not be dismissed.

“All are presumed innocent until proven guilt. While a person may be in custody for one reason or the other, that doesn’t give another person the right to beat them to death. There’s a process for everything and we want to follow the process and act within the law.”

‘OFFICERS DID WHAT THEY HAD TO DO’

President of the Prison Officers Association Gerard Gordon described the riot as unfortunate but added he fully supported the prison officers.

He defended their actions during the riot saying the officers could have faced almost 100 inmates during the fracas.

“Officers were being attacked, missiles were being thrown, the place was dark, people were shouting ‘we go kill allyuh,’ and the officers (had) to fight for their very lives as they were outnumbered.

“I am mindful someone lost their life, but we have to be careful in understanding that his death wasn’t a result of any malicious act. If officers are placed in a position where they are fighting for their lives and are outnumbered, of course force had to be used to bring the situation under control.”

Gordon warned against people jumping to conclusions, suggesting the eventual outcome could have been even worse.

“We need to be careful. This is people’s lives and livelihoods and prison officers are not mad people. If you look at the prison service act it speaks to when you have a riotous situation and what sort of force an officer is able to use. I am saying those officers still showed a level of restraint in the discharge of their duty.”

Gordon said the association continues to advocate for what is right as he again called for the Port of Spain prison to be shut down.

“It was a riot situation. Officers were fighting for their lives while being assaulted. A number of our officers were assaulted and they did what they had to do to bring the situation under control.”

He said Brown’s death is yet another example why reform is needed.

“It is more than high time that the prison service really gets the support it needs. Not to maintain the status quo but to move us into modern correctional institutions and practises that could certainly see us serve the public in the way they deserve to be served.”

This is the second time in less than six months that a prisoner has been beaten to death.

Emmanuel Joseph died on October 20, while in remand at the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre in Santa Rosa.

An autopsy showed he died from shock and haemorrhage, multiple traumatic injuries and multiple blunt-force injuries.

He was held on charges of attempted murder, after two gunmen shot at Deputy Prisons Commissioner Sherwin Bruce’s daughter and her driver.

Romero suggested while Brown’s and Joseph’s families may not get swift justice, their deaths should not be in vain.

“These matters take some time but hopefully at the end, when it’s completed, a lesson is learned not just by the prison service but generally.”

WHAT THE ACT SAYS:

Section 13 of the Prisons Act authorises prison officers to use guns or any other mode of force to prevent escape, violent assault or mutiny in a prison, and adds they, “shall not be responsible for the consequences.”