Judge wants police to pay as Inshan Ishmael wins $310k for bad arrest, charge

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Inshan Ishmael.

BUSINESSMAN Inshan Ishmael is set to receive a total of $310,000, plus interest, for his wrongful arrest and false imprisonment in 2017.

And the judge who made the order also directed that the businessman’s lawsuit, the recording of the trial, and the court’s orders are to be sent to the Police Commissioner and the Police Complaints Authority to determine whether disciplinary charges should be instituted against the senior officer who arrested and detained Ishmael.

“The apparent involvement of a senior khaki-wearing officer in the claimant’s arrest on October 12, 2017, is a circumstance which is troubling and requires investigation.

“A no-tolerance approach to the abuse of lawful authority must be adopted,” Justice Frank Seepersad said.

He also wants the errant police officers to pay out of their own pockets.

On Thursday, after a brief virtual trial, Seepersad found the police acted maliciously and without cause when they arrested and charged him some six months after an alleged incident in which he drove up to a man and threatened him with a gun.

Ishmael was charged with possession of a firearm to endanger life, possession of ammunition to endanger life and common assault in October 2017, arising out of an alleged incident on April 2 at the ASJA compound at Caroni Savannah Road, Charlieville.

He was freed of the charges in July 2020, after a Chaguanas magistrate upheld his attorneys’ no-case submission.

Seepersad had adjourned the hearing for the assessment of damages to Tuesday.

“The factual matrix in this case registered with the court a sense of worry and alarm as it highlighted seemingly disturbing and unacceptable behaviour by members of the police service.”

He said the behaviour of the police who arrested Ishmael signalled the need for immediate and drastic changes in the police service, since, he said, “the unearthed abuse of authority undermines the foundational tenets of a functional democracy.

“It also emphasises that crisis can unfold if the police service is not sanitised and reformed so that officers are held to account when they abuse their authority.

“The rule of law depends heavily upon the impartiality, professionalism, and efficacy of a police service whose primary objective is to protect, serve and pursue the interest of justice.”

As he and other judges have done in the past, Seepersad called on the legislature, “as a matter of urgency,” to consider amending the State Liability and Proceedings Act to mandate errant officers to personally bear the responsibility of paying exemplary damages awards granted by the court.

“The rights of citizens must be protected and taxpayers should not be burdened by the consequential judgment debts nor should they be expected to continue to pay the salaries of errant and complicit police officers.”

In Ishmael’s case, Seepersad said the actions of the police “cannot be condoned.”

“The video footage, tendered before the court, revealed that his arrest was publicly effected and was done in the presence of children one of whom appeared to be visibly distressed by the actions of the police.

“This arrest was even more alarming given that it was apparently executed by a senior officer in khaki.”

Seepersad said police officers held positions transiently and on trust for the welfare of citizens.

“The significant and sacrosanct powers with which they are vested require them to act with forthrightness and fearlessness.

“In the discharge of this mandate, the abuse of authority like that which occurred in this case, cannot and will not be tolerated by the court.”

He broke down the types of compensation Ishmael is to receive under the headings of: nominal damages for assault of $5,000; aggravating damages of $120,000 for malicious prosecution; and $65,000 for special damages to cover his attorneys’ fees. The per-annum interest to be calculated on the sums will run from the time Ishmael filed his lawsuit to the date of the court’s ruling, which has been stayed for 28 days.

Ishmael was represented by attorneys Arden Williams, Mariah Puckerin and Shelly Ann Daniel. The State was represented by Maria Belmar-Williams.