Judge: Police, Judiciary failed domestic violence victim repeatedly

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Samantha Isaacs –

SAMANTHA Stacey Isaacs was a domestic violence victim who was shot in both legs and behind the head by her abusive, jealous and possessive ex-boyfriend six years ago.

Issacs was killed by Kahriym Garcia on December 16, 2017, and left on the roadway in Carenage. He shot and killed himself when police confronted him hours after.

On May 16, Justice Robin Mohammed held her rights and that of her mother, Tot Lampkin, and her young son, to the protection of the law and respect for private and family life, were infringed by the inaction of the police and the judiciary.

Compensation for Isaacs’ family will be determined at a later date as the parties are to exchange submissions on the issue at the end of June.

Issacs was killed by Kahriym Garcia on December 16, 2017, and left on the roadway in Carenage.

Issac and her family’s lives were put in grave danger on several occasions with impunity, the judge said.

He admitted he almost recoiled in the comfort zone of accepting the norm that there were no positive obligations imposed on the State to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens under sections 4(a),(b) and ( c) of the Constitution, particularly the right to life as submitted by the State.

However, he said to do so would amount to “burying one’s head in the sand when so many insidious activities are impacting society right above surface level.”

“The facts of this case and the preparation of this judgment have caused me no end of worry

“Knowing the facts of this case and understanding the relevant authorities, have allowed me to be satisfied that this case is exceptional and qualifies for imposing a positive duty/obligation on the State.”

In his ruling, Mohammed called for greater action for domestic violence victims.

“Domestic violence is a harrowing reality that pervades the sanctity of human dignity, leaving scars that run deeper than the visible bruises. Particularly egregious is the disproportionate victimisation of women, ensnared in cycles of fear and abuse.

“Behind closed doors, the abuser wields power, manipulating vulnerability into a weapon of coercion and control. Yet, the insidious nature of domestic violence veils itself in silence, perpetuating a culture of complicity and denial. This abuse often occurs in cycles, beginning with tension-building, followed by the incident of abuse, reconciliation, and calm, only to repeat and more often than not, escalate in intensity over time.”

He said by now, almost everyone in TT knew and understood the cycle of domestic violence as it was prevalent in the country and regionally.

“Why then, does the police not know that every report or complaint of domestic violence must be taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly?

“More must be done, and more is required to be done, by the State through its servants and agents, as has been shown in this judgment derived from the leading authorities.

“Addressing domestic violence requires a multifaceted approach. It involves legal measures to protect and support victims, such as restraining orders, and safe shelters, along with robust law enforcement responses to hold perpetrators accountable.

“It is this court’s earnest desire to see the implementation of this multidimensional system with some urgency through collective acknowledgement, intervention and empowerment by State authorities to unravel the grip of domestic violence and safeguard the sanctity of our vulnerable in society.”

He said the legislation – the Domestic Violence Act and the Police Service Act – had to be read together

Under the former, he said it was the duty of the police to investigate every complaint and complete a report for the National Domestic Violence Register which is maintained by the Commissioner of Police.

“Domestic violence has been characterised as a global public health crisis of endemic proportion. It is an unseen crime, faceless that knows no bounds; transcending all boundaries of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, geography and socioeconomic or religious backgrounds.

“Left unchecked, it will continue to degenerate the social fabric of our society and obstruct all aspirations and efforts to obtain peace and true sustainable development of our country.”

Domestic violence, he added, was a complex and often concealed crime that required a greater level of sensitivity on the part of law enforcement for it to be appropriately addressed.

“The statistics reveal that numerous domestic violence-related crimes remain unreported due to the inherent risks victims face when seeking protection in volatile situations, fearing retaliation from their partner or family member.

“When victims do summon the courage to report, they expect, at the very least, acknowledgement, response, and thorough investigation of their complaints.”

It was for this reason, that he said the right to protection of the law included a duty by the police to not only report and document complaints but also investigate to determine if further prosecution is needed to protect the victim’s rights.

“]In this case at bar, it is undisputed that Samantha was a victim of domestic violence and she took steps to obtain the protection of the State from the violent acts of her former partner and subsequent murderer.

“ She approached the police by making four reports to them concerning the conduct of various abusive levels on the part of Kahriym.”

From the evidence, he said, it was “abundantly clear there was a total “failure” by the police to respect Issac’s rights.

He said in the four times she made reports, no investigations or enquiries were done.

On the Judiciary’s part, the judge said the magistrate – before whom Issacs sought a protection order and custody of her child – “strayed from the legitimate concern” over Issacs’ safety and dignity.

Among Issacs’ complaints were that Kahriym threatened to kill her, throw acid in her face and stick her with an AIDS needle.

The judge said the magistrate appeared “preoccupied with her suspicion that Samantha’s approach to the court was not a bona fide intent to secure a protection order but instead, it was to assist her in obtaining maintenance.”

He said the magistrate had before her an arsenal of statutory powers to grant an interim protection order.

“Yet despite numerous complaints of threats of violence…the magistrate took no steps,” he said.

In submissions at the trial of the claim in January, Lampkin’s attorney Douglas Mendes, SC, argued, “The police failed her. They did not protect her. The law does provide protection but the State failed her.”

Mendes said despite numerous complaints to the police, including once when they had to put a gun to Garcia’s head because he was cussing them out and making threats to Issacs and other family members in their presence, they did nothing.

“She did what she was told she had to do – make a report to the police.”

Mendes also said the Judiciary also failed Issacs when she attempted to get a protection order.

“She then goes to the court and encounters a magistrate who is sceptical and is of the view that she just wanted to fast-track a maintenance application. She did not take the report (of domestic violence) seriously even though Kahriym did not oppose it,” Mendes said as he read excerpts of what took place at the hearing.

“There is no explanation from the magistrate at all…

“Here is a magistrate not doing her duty by providing an interim protection the Domestic Violence Act offers… Maybe things would have turned out differently.”

“There is a positive obligation to the right to protection of the law,” he maintained.

In response, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein said neither a protection order nor an arrest was an absolute solution or guarantee.

“In many cases, the police did their work and the perpetrator gets bail and people are still killed….” he said as an example.

Hosein said to establish a positive obligation, the authority must have known of real and immediate risks and failed to take measures to eradicate those risks.

“There was no negligence in this case,” he said.

Hosein said the police had their jobs to do and had to do so proportionally. He pointed to the four “sporadic” reports made by Issacs.

“What was the police to do?” He also warned the judge against creating new rights that did not exist in common law and “create new laws.” This, he said, was for the Parliament to do.

“Do these positive rights amount to a fundamental right?

Isaacs reported she was repeatedly beaten, and attacked with a knife. At the same time, Garcia had a gun, was harassed at her workplace, humiliated after he shared her nude images and threatened to kill in the presence of officers, yet no action was taken, the evidence before the court said.

In court transcripts, she pleaded with a magistrate to grant her a protection order. Although Garcia agreed to stay away, the magistrate refused to grant the order saying Isaacs was using that as a ploy to get maintenance for her infant son. In one hearing, the magistrate dismissed her application seeking a protection order after the matter was stood down for just 22 seconds. The PCA had recommended disciplinary action against one officer at the Carenage station for neglect of duty to investigate Isaac’s complaint against Garcia relating to the knife attack.

Issacs was pursuing studies in biochemistry at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine.

Also representing Lampkin was Clay Hackett while Rishi Dass, SC, Kadine Matthew and Kendra Mark-Gordon also represented the State.