Two of the three homeless men who were made to drink alcohol by police and soldiers two weeks ago ae moving to take legal action against the State. Attorney Kelston Pope, on behalf of Malcolm Salvary and Moses Phillip, both of Riverside Plaza, Port of Spain, issued a pre-action protocol letter addressed to the attorney general dated last Thursday.
The letter claims false imprisonment and trespass of the person – the legal term for intentional interference with someone’s body or liberty. The letter asked for a response within 28 days, or else the “swift initiation of legal proceedings.” Pope is seeking aggravated and exemplary damages.
Among the complaints are that the two men were threatened by police and soldiers, made to drink alcohol and do push-ups, and denied the right to file a report on the incident at Besson Street Police Station.
One of the soldiers allegedly recorded part of the incident, involving Moses, which quickly spread online. This, Pope said, caused embarrassment to his client, “affecting his proper sense of dignity and pride.”
He wrote that he had told his clients that “by their actions, omissions and/or failures, while in the course of duty as soldiers and police officers, these state agents committed the actionable torts of assault, battery and false imprisonment causing them (our clients) to suffer personal injury, pain, consequential loss and damage, including loss of reputation.”
The letter said on or around March 29, the two men were on George Street, Port of Spain, and saw a police vehicle approaching. They were both stopped by the occupants, who they said were two policemen in the front seat and two soldiers in the back. One of the soldiers allegedly told Salvary he would not get “lock up” or “licks” if he drank from a glass bottle labelled “puncheon rum.”
In the letter, Salvary said he told the patrol he does not drink alcohol, having previously suffered a stroke. He said fearing a beating or arrest, he unwillingly complied with their instructions. Salvary said the puncheon burned his stomach and throat, and he began to vomit. He claims that an officer pointed a rifle at him, cocked it and told him to run.
The second claimant, Phillip, said the police stopped alongside him on George Street, and he saw two men in the front seats wearing police uniform and two in the back wearing green camouflage, the type worn by members of the Defence Force. They made drink him the puncheon in order to avoid a charge. Phillip said he too was afraid and unwillingly complied.
He said he was then made to do push-ups at the side of the road and complained while the officers jeered at him. “After completing the push-ups, the second intended claimant felt dizzy, intoxicated and nauseated,” the letter read.
They are said to have told him to drink another bottle, but he refused,. The officers then asked him if he was willing to “take a case” instead.
They told Phillip to run behind the vehicle as it drove away. He was unwilling but one of the soldiers, the letter adds, pointed his gun at Phillip, cocked it and threatened to shoot him.
Before the letter was sent, Newsday twice interviewed Phillip, who said he had spoken with members of the Professional Standards Bureau about the assault, and Police Commissioner Gary Griffith had sent two officers to speak to him.
Griffith, speaking on the incident shortly after, said: “The Chief of Defence staff is my batch and he will deal with those two clowns (the army officers involved).
“But everyone is speaking about the police service,” Giffith added, “and as I said, those two (police) officers should not wear uniforms, because they had a right to stop it.”
“But it was a soldier who pointed the weapon and gave the instructions.”