Judge orders compensation for man’s wrongful arrest in 2016

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney Keith Scotland.

A High Court judge has ordered compensation for a man who was wrongly arrested and charged in 2016 for firearm-related offences.

On Monday, Justice Jacqueline Wilson ordered more than $.5 million in compensation for Brian Lewis. This sum could reach closer to $1 million when interest, ordered by the court on the compensation, is tallied.

The judge’s order was made in a malicious prosecution claim in which the State admitted liability.

When he was arrested and charged in March 2016, Lewis was not entitled to bail for 120 days because of provisions in the Bail Amendment Act of 2015. He spent 265 days on remand until he was able to secure bail. The charges against him were dismissed on May 15, 2017.

In her ruling, Wilson referred to a report that suggested the charges were fabricated.

“The total absence of evidence to support the charges suggests that, in laying them, the officers acted in an oppressive and arbitrary manner,” the judge said.

At the trial, Lewis’s lead attorney Keith Scotland submitted evidence of “deplorable conditions” at Maximum Security prison in Golden Grove, Arouca which his client had to endure.

“The claimant’s evidence was that he felt depressed, afraid, confused and stressed for months. He also stated that for months he could not eat or relieve himself properly or get used to the food, which was tasteless and unhealthy.

“He felt ashamed and embarrassed at having to use a bucket for a toilet and to bathe in front of other prisoners. He was subjected to strip searches and was made to squat in front of strangers prior to every time he was taken to court and on other occasions when prison officers ordered such searches to be conducted.”

While on remand, the court heard, Lewis often worried about his young daughter who, he said, appeared to have forgotten him when he was eventually released. A barbershop which Lewis owned and operated had also become dilapidated in his absence.

Scotland said that when Lewis was arrested, he was told by a police officer to “go and make 120 days” in jail. He added that given the “draconian measures” of the Bail Amendment Act, at the time, the police should have been more diligent in their investigations before charging Lewis.

Wilson admitted the circumstances surrounding Lewis’s arrest and prosecution were “cause for grave concern.”

Representing the State were Jayanti Teeluckdharry and Avaria Niles while Rhea Sookhai and Karla Medford appeared with Scotland for Lewis.