Prison Commissioner must bring 3 prisoners hurt in March 26 fracas to court

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar. –

A HIGH COURT judge has ordered the Commissioner of Prisons to have three of six prisoners injured at the Port of Spain prison on March 26 appear before her at a virtual hearing on March 28.

They were taken to hospital after what prison authorities described as a “riot” on March 26 in which officers were also injured.

Justice Margaret Mohammed made the order on March 27 as she granted three writs of habeas corpus to the families of the three prisoners.

She ordered that the three “must be able to hear and see the proceedings” at Thursday’s hearing.

Attorney Keron Ramkhalwhan, who represents Kerry Valentino, Ayokie Charles, and Ray Paul Julien, applied for the writs after the men’s families were unable to find out where they were.

The applications said it appeared the three had been removed from the Port of Spain General Hospital and “taken to a location unknown.”

“To date, the prison authorities and the Port of Spain General Hospital have failed to provide any information to the family of the applicant and/or his attorney at law concerning his whereabouts and/or medical condition,” each application contended.

It also asked whether the men had been put in solitary confinement, and called on the commissioner to justify their detention at a location not designated for first-division prisoners. First-division prisoners are those in custody for failing to pay a civil debt, in contempt of court, or awaiting deportation, trial in the assizes or the hearing of an appeal.

Supporting each writ were affidavits filed by members of the men’s families who said they did not know where they were or what condition they were in.

In a release, acting Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar said Tuesday’s incident stemmed from a dispute between a prisoner and a prison officer around 11 am.

“It was reported that the inmate refused to obey lawful instructions to return to his cell. He became violent and uncontrollable.

“The officer attempted to have the inmate manage his emotions and return to the cell. However, the officer was assaulted. The officer had no choice but to defend himself and other inmates in the vicinity chose this incident to rally around, causing a fracas.”

It added that the injured prisoners and officers were taken to the hospital for treatment.

However, the men’s writs disputes the prison authorities’ account of what took place at the prison, on Frederick Street.

The men’s application accused prison officers of physically abusing an epileptic Muslim prisoner when another Muslim prisoner objected, leading to guards beating both of them. The two allegedly ran into a cell and everyone in that cell was beaten, stamped and kicked.

The application further contended the prisoners were beaten with a “brass knuckle,” leaving them “unable to walk and covered in blood.”

Newsday has seen photographs and video images of blood-soaked clothing, buckets and walls, purportedly from the prison.

In its statement, the prison service said Ramoutar has launched an investigation and also engaged the police.