Judge throws out no-show ‘hostile’ state witness lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad –

A lawsuit by WPC Nicole Clement over the removal of a security detail at the safe house she was in while in the Justice Protection Programme in 2022 has been thrown out.

On Wednesday, her lawsuit was thrown out by Justice Frank Seepersad. Clement did not appear for the virtual hearing, although she did last week when she said she still wanted to pursue it.

Clement was the State’s main witness in the murder trial against the six police officers charged with the 2011 murder of three Moruga friends. On Friday, those six officers were acquitted by a Port of Spain jury.

Clement was one of the officers also charged with the murders of Abigail Johnson, 23, Alana Duncan, 28, and Kerron “Fingers” Eccles.

However, the three murder charges against her were discontinued in 2012 after the Director of Public Prosecutions gave her immunity to turn state witness and testify against the six. During the trial at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, Clement refused to testify and was deemed a “hostile witness” by the judge.

In November 2022, Clement was forced to go to court for an injunction to get a security detail reinstated at a safe house after being left without protection for over a week.

She had been in protective custody for over a decade before she left the programme in April.

At the murder trial in the High Court, she admitted she was no longer in protective custody but claimed she was “forced out.”

“I won’t say I voluntarily left. I was forced out because of the actions or inactions of persons in the Justice Protection Programme.”

In her 2022 lawsuit, Clement said the security detail at the safe house where she had been for the past 11 years was removed on November 18, 2022. She complained there had been threats to her life, and the police had not been investigating them.

In the application, she said no reason was given for the security detail’s removal, and she had been left to fend for herself.

She also said although another judge granted an injunction on November 25, 2022, for the immediate reinstatement of a security detail, it was only a day later that officers returned.

“My security detail was reinstated almost 24 hours after the respondents were served with the court’s interim injunction order mandating the immediate reinstatement of same.

“It is evident that the respondents continue to flout their duties owed in law, which forms the basis of my application for leave before this court.”

She was seeking permission for the court to review the decisions of the police commissioner and the Minister of National Security over their alleged failure to abide by their duties under the Justice Protection Act.

On Wednesday, Seepersad said the concerns she raised were no longer relevant since she left the programme and the trial had ended.

He also said the relief she was seeking was now academic since the alleged “threat” that accompanied her circumstances as a witness had been removed and there was no issue of there being a retrial of the murder case given the jury’s acquittal.

Seepersad was also not pleased that Clement chose not to attend court.

“I am not pleased she elects not to come. She made representation she wanted to retrieve her items at the safe house.

“Attempts were made to facilitate her so she could move on…she has not availed herself of that opportunity. If she reaches out after this hearing, the arrangements would be made without prejudice in any action she might want to take for the loss or items.

“There is no utility to keep the matter on the court’s list,” the judge said as he dismissed her claim.

At a hearing last week, Clement said there were personal items at the safe house she wanted returned to her.

Attorneys for the State were asked to enquire with the relevant authorities on her request.

On Wednesday, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, on behalf of the State, said officers had a list of items they were ready to return to her and had arranged for that to take place on Tuesday, but that did not happen.

“There is a dispute about whether they have all the things she said they should return to her.”

However, both Mendes and the judge agree the issue of the items at the safe house was not before the court.

“She can pursue that with the relevant officers. If she thinks there are items not returned to her, she can deal with it separately,” Clement was advised.

On the issue of costs, Mendes admitted no order for costs would be appropriate since that part of her claim relating to the withdrawal of her security led to her instituting the action.

However, he said there was no basis for a major part of her complaint on an outstanding memorandum.

In her lawsuit, she claimed as far as she was aware, she never signed an MOU relating to her participation in the programme and was not “aware of the terms of her involvement” in it.

She also complained about not receiving any money for reasonable living expenses for her or her daughter or any other financial assistance in accordance with provisions of the Justice Protection Act, and for 11 years, she had been forced to meet all expenses, including utilities, at the various safe houses on her own.

She was also forced to home-school her daughter, she said and wrote to then minister of National Security Stuart Young on her concerns but received no response.

Her lawsuit contained details of previous complaints about her security as well as about the dilapidated “and almost uninhabitable” condition of the safe house she was last in.

She was not ordered to pay costs.

In June 2022, Clement also filed a separate lawsuit relating to the plea-deal discussions with the DPP.

In that challenge, she complained of the DPP’s failure to continue plea discussions and execute a further plea agreement with her for financial support after the trial and for her family to migrate.

In that lawsuit, she claimed she entered into an agreement with then assistant commissioner Raymond Craig for her to plead guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and the three murder charges would be dropped against her once she turned State witness and testified against her former colleagues.

Her lawsuit claimed plea negotiations began with the DPP in 2012 but there was no provision in the agreement for her to migrate with her family as had been previously negotiated.

It claimed that she was assured that discussions would continue and a further agreement would be entered into, so she signed the plea deal. She was charged with the lesser offence in 2012 and committed to stand trial in January 2014.

An indictment was filed in May 2018.

Her lawsuit said she was prepared to plead guilty but there were issues with the plea deal to be resolved.