Nigerian shot while fleeing fire at Aripo detention centre awarded $800k

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A NIGERIAN man who was shot and beaten by police while escaping from a fire at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Aripo in 2015 will receive over $765,000 in compensation.

On Wednesday, Justice Devindra Rampersad ordered the State to compensate Kennedy Leckwachi, 45, for malicious prosecution, wrongful imprisonment and the gunshot wound.

Leckwachi, who worked as a metal fabricator, was arrested by Immigration Division officers on January 2, 2015, and was being housed at the IDC for overstaying his time in TT until a fire broke out in September that year and the centre had to be evacuated.

After evacuating, Leckwachi was confronted by three police officers with guns and a dog. He was shot in the leg and beaten, although he pleaded with the police.

Leckwachi was hospitalised for weeks and eventually charged with escaping lawful custody and assaulting a police officer.

He pleaded not guilty and after the matter was adjourned 40 times in the magistrates’ court, it was eventually dismissed after the magistrate upheld a no-case submission on the ground the police did not have enough evidence to sustain the charge. The judge also pointed out that the officer who charged him failed to show up in court and based on this, the court concluded, “not only was there no reasonable and probable cause” to charge Leckwachi but “malice has to be inferred.”

Although during this time, Leckwachi was put under an order of supervision by the Immigration Division in August 2017, he remained at the IDC, since he couldn’t pay the security deposit, and was eventually deported in 2019.

In his decision, Rampersad also said Leckwachi’s detention for more than four years without proper steps being taken to expatriate him was in clear breach of the law.

Leckwachi testified at the trial from Nigeria in February 2021, and one of his witnesses, Dr Ajayi John, also appeared by video link from Nigeria.

In 2019, when Rampersad refused an injunction to block Leckwachi’s deportation, he said the case against the State would not have been prejudiced by his absence, as he could testify from his country via video conferencing.

In support of his claim for assault, Leckwachi said he was shot in the leg at close range and was kicked and mashed by the police officers. He also said they beat him with a baton and dragged him.

He received damages for wrongful imprisonment, plus interest beginning from January 2015; for malicious prosecution, also with interest; the gunshot wound and exemplary damages. The State was also ordered to pay $100,799.49 in costs.

Lechwachi was being represented by Matthew Gayle and Crystal Paul. Sanjeev Lalla, Candice Alexander and Brent James argued the State’s case.