Judge knocks ‘shoddy’ investigation of family of cops

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Kevin Ramcharan. – File photo

A HIGH COURT judge has condemned the “shoddy investigation” of a family of police officers who were arrested and charged for an alleged assault in 2016.

On June 17, Justice Kevin Ramcharan ruled there was improper motive for prosecuting Sgt Rameshwar and his children, PCs Tia Gopaul and Anil Gopaul.

He has ordered compensation for the three amounting to over $.8 million, including interest of 2.5 per cent per annum, from April 26, 2022, to the date he delivered his reasons.

Ramcharan held there were “improper motives” in laying the charges against the three in 2017, a year after the alleged assault, and drew “adverse inferences” from the re-laying of the charges against them in 2018 after the case was initially dismissed in the magistrates’ court.

The second time around, the case against the Gopaul family was dismissed when attorneys for the Director of Public Prosecution told the court it was not proper for the charges to be re-laid as they had previously been dismissed.

Ramcharan said correspondence between Insp Ken Lutchman, who charged the three, and the police Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) was not disclosed, nor was there a record of correspondence with the Office of the DPP on the relaying of the charges.

“This was crucial evidence, in the court’s view, in light of Lutchman’s assertion that it was on those instructions that the charges were re-laid, despite the fact that it was the prosecutor from the Office of the DPP who stated that it was wrong to have re-laid the charges.

“In the absence of these, the court is minded to draw adverse inferences, especially with respect to the relaying of the charges.

“In the circumstances, the court is of the view that there was improper motive on the part of Sgt Lutchman in prosecuting the claimants.

“There can be no doubt about it with respect to the relaid charges, but the court, in the absence of the evidence above, is minded to hold that there were improper motives in the original laying of the charges when taken in conjunction with the manner in which the investigation was conducted,” the judge said in his reasons for granting judgment in favour of the three.

He was also critical of the State’s defence of Tia Gopaul’s claim for special damages for loss of earnings after she was suspended.

“The defendant submitted that there was no evidence as to the second claimant’s salary before the event, and therefore she should not receive any compensation at all.

“That is an entirely unfortunate submission. The defendant states that it has no knowledge of the truth of that claim.

“That is clearly not the case. It is to be remembered that the defendant is sued on behalf of the State of Trinidad and Tobago.

“The second claimant was in the employ of the State. It was clearly within the knowledge of the State as to whether the second claimant was paid, and secondly, what her salary would have been during the time of non-payment.

“The court views such non-admission as an effective admission, as it is clearly and demonstrably not true.

“The court also notes that this case is not an isolated case of such pleading, and would hope that it ceases. Where information is within the bosom of the State, the State cannot claim that it is not within its knowledge.”

On the “shoddy” investigation by Lutchman, the judge said had he considered the reports before him by the alleged witnesses and investigating officers, “he could not have held the requisite subjective belief that there was a sufficient case to put forward against the claimants.”

He added, “What is relevant in malicious prosecution matters is the material available to the prosecutor when he made his decision, and whether that would be sufficient to satisfy the objective and subjective test.

“Having said that, the court is firmly of the view that had he properly considered the statements at his disposal, including the station diary extract, and concerning the condition of Mr Rampersad (the alleged victim) and the medical, which was not consistent with his being beaten to the point of concussion. There was no record of bruises on the medical, only abrasions, which is more consistent with his falling.

“Secondly, if the assault had indeed taken place in the manner in which some of the witnesses alleged, including the conduct of the second claimant, that would have been in the presence of the attending officers, and it would have appeared in their reports and they surely would have taken some steps to restrain the second claimant from the alleged brutal assault on Mr Rampersad.

“It is clear that Insp Lutchman did not consider these things properly.”

“In fact, it is clear that he did not seek to clarify from any of the officers the apparent discrepancies in their accounts and the accounts of the alleged witnesses.”

Lutchman, in his witness statement, said he was told of the alleged incident at Logan Drive, Sangre Grande, involving police officers. He detailed a team to visit the scene.

It was alleged that the three assaulted David Rampersad. He said he was detailed by the senior superintendent of the Eastern Division to continue investigations and received several reports and statements from officers, Rampersad and others. He said he interviewed the Gopauls in 2017 and had received instructions from the DPP to charge them.

In their witness statements, the Gopauls said they felt “sick” with shame and embarrassment when they were arrested and charged.

They had been renting from Rampersad, whom they described as a family friend, while construction was being done at their home.

They said before the alleged incident, there was an occasion when Rampersad was cursing and quarrelling while confronting the Gopaul patriarch. They said Rampersad was staggering and slurring and there was a “strong scent of alcohol from him.”

Rameshwar Gopaul said he decided to call the police after his grandson got cut after Rampersad broke a window, even though he was a police officer.

“The situation with Rampersad escalated,” he said. This happened when one of the Gopauls stopped one of Rampersad’s employees in a roadblock and made him take a breathalyser test.

On the day of the incident, the landlord confronted the family again and the police were again called.

Eight months later, the three were arrested and charged.

“I felt humiliated and embarrassed, because usually I would be the officer executing an arrest. I never thought I would be the person being arrested. The way the police officers handcuff me, tightened the handcuff and roughed me up made me feel like I was already a convicted criminal,” the eldest Gopaul said.

Anil Gopaul said he felt humiliated.

“I never imagined being arrested, especially together with my family. It was a real low. Never in my life did I ever think I would be charged for assaulting anyone.”

Tia Gopaul denied she grabbed or assaulted Rampersad.

“It was embarrassing knowing that I come from a family of police officers who have a good record…Never before was I ever in trouble with the law, so it was a shameful experience being handcuffed. I felt like I was branded by the officers as a criminal and felt like I disappointed my family.”

The three were represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Ganesh Saroop and Alana Rambaran.

The State was represented by Kendra Mark-Gordon and Ronnelle Hinds.