Gun dealer to get police notes in firearm audit lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. –

POLICE Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher has been ordered to provide the contemporaneous notes made by one of her officers during a search of a Chaguanas firearms dealership in 2022.

On February 22, Justices of Appeal Maria Wilson and Ronnie Boodoosingh allowed part of an appeal filed by licensed firearm dealer Towfeek Ali, director of the Firearms Training Institute Ltd (FTI), based in Chaguanas.

Ali challenged the police’s authority to conduct an “audit” of FTI’s business on October 8, 2022. His lawsuit was filed after five police officers went to the dealership. In his lawsuit, Ali maintained the officers failed to specify the nature of the audit but demanded that Ali produce his import permits for the firearms purchased by FTI.

The documents were handed over and Ali allowed the “audit” to take place because he said he believed he would be arrested if he did not comply with the officers’ directives.

Several weapons, ammunition, registers and other documents were seized and Ali was not allowed back into the business until October 27.

In his lawsuit, Ali complained actions of the officers were unreasonable, irrational, illegal, disproportionate, used in bad faith and/or constituted an abuse of power as the Firearms Act did not allow the police to carry out such an “audit.”

It only allows for police to “inspect” the stock in hand and registers of licensed firearm dealers.

He subsequently received permission to pursue his case and an injunction which ordered the officers to return the firearms and ammunition.

At the case management stage, the presiding judge, Justice Devindra Rampersad, ordered disclosure relating to the directions given to the officers and by whom.

However, Ali approached the Court of Appeal for the notes taken by each of the officers, the reports they prepared and all information, evidence and material to support the search warrants they obtained to search his business.

Wilson and Boodoosingh held the judge made two errors when denying Ali’s request for the contemporaneous notes taken by the officers during the search.

They ordered the commissioner to disclose the contemporaneous notes made by PC Kelsey Francis during the search since she said she was the “scribe” on the exercise.

“The judge’s reasons demonstrated that he was on top of the issues in the case and a wide margin has to be given to his exercise of discretion.

“Further, only one witness made categorical reference to taking notes and identified herself as the designated ‘scribe.’

“In that sense, it would be of particular relevance for the parties to have regard to those notes so that they can better inform the judge on how conflicts on the evidence should be resolved,” Boodoosingh, who wrote the unanimous decision said.

He said Rampersad deprived himself of the benefit of having access to PC Francis’s notes as the scribe.

Although they found the judge correctly identified the issues in the case, Boodoosingh said determining what occurred, where there is a significant conflict of facts, had to be resolved by examining the evidence advanced by both sides.

“It is in that context that the contemporaneous notes would be relevant as they would shed light on what took place as recorded contemporaneously and not at a later time after litigation had commenced. It has often been said that in fact finding the court ought to check the assertions by witnesses against contemporaneous documents.”

Two other complaints of the judge’s failure to order disclosure of the officers’ reports and the evidence they used to get their warrants were dismissed by the judges.

The matter will now return to the judge for the hearing of Ali’s substantive claim since it had been put on hold pending the outcome of the procedural appeal.

Ali was represented by Anand Beharrylal, KC, Kiel Taklalsingh, Asif Hosein-Shah and Ananda Rampersad while Russell Martineau, SC, Tamara Toolsie, Adita Ramdular, Amrita Ramsook and Vincent Jardine represented the commissioner, acting ASP Wayne Brown and acting Insp Lyndon Mascall who were named as the defendants in Ali’s lawsuit.