Prison officers: Juvenile inmates were creating a disturbance

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A group of juvenile inmates at the Women’s Prison in Arouca was causing a disturbance, loud and unruly, destroying property and necessary force was used to subdue them.

This was the collective testimony of prison officers on duty in the north wing of the prison which housed juvenile inmates.

Eight of those former inmates have since sued the State, alleging they were beaten on June 25, 2015, by a group of prison officers who stormed the dormitory.

The former inmates have admitted they were vocal about not being given their meals that evening, but have denied behaving in a raucous manner.

On Monday, six of the former juvenile inmates testified at the hybrid trial before Justice Westmin James and two testified on Tuesday. One of them said she was beaten on the head with a baton, dragged up a staircase and she had her bra ripped off and was called a whore by an officer. She also said she was stamped on the back and her arms and wrists were paining her. She admitted to breaking free and running into the dining hall.

She admitted she and other other juveniles in the dormitory she was in were loud, but said that was because they did not get their food that evening.

“We were not being loud and disorderly. We were being loud asking for our diet but not being disorderly.

“We were children. Yes, we were being loud.”

She also said she did not recall an incident with another juvenile in the other dormitory who was left unconscious after another juvenile overturned her bed with her on it.

She also denied threatening, cursing or shouting obscenities at officers.

Also testifying on Tuesday were some of the officers on duty that night.

Prison officer 1 Kandice Gomez said the supervisor summoned her and other officers around 9 pm that night.

She said they were divided into two groups to go to the north and south dormitories in the north wing of the prison and given handcuffs and batons. Gomez said she went to the north dormitory, but did not recall anyone in her group getting batons.

“Nobody in my group had.”

She said they were told to extract the juvenile inmates from the dorms.

Gomez said none of the juveniles attacked her, but insisted any force used by her colleagues was necessary.

Two of the juveniles, she said, complied with the officers’ instructions and there was no need to use force on them, other than holding their hands and feet to remove them from the dormitory. She could not say how they suffered the injuries documented in their lawsuit. Gomez said those two were “submissive,” while two others “were a bit aggressive, but were restrained and escorted out.”

Gomez was questioned about the women prison’s use-of-force policy and said the same applied for both juveniles and adults.

“It governs our conduct as prison officers.…On June 25, 2015, necessary force was used…

“Before we entered the dormitory, the girls were banging and shouting and chanting and making noise.

“Chanting, ‘War, war.’”

She also could not say why the daily occurrence book, which contemporaneously details everything that happens in the north wing, was not part of her evidence, or why she gave a statement about the incident four days later, when the policy was that officers do so before they get off their shifts.

She also said in June 2015, there were no cameras in the north dormitory or the corridor which separates the north and south dormitories by a couple of feet.

“There are cameras yes, but on the main prison…south. There are none in that part of the prison (north wing).

Also testifying was POI Phoebe Shepherd, who was on probation at the time. She said the incident required force being used, but she used none against any inmate.

“There were two inmates I dealt with.

“What is force? I had to hold them to restrain them for them to be carried to the relevant area.”

Those two inmates were fighting, kicking and screaming.

“It took a relevant amount of effort to contain her,” she said of one of the juveniles. “There was no one using any kind of force to cause those kinds of injuries.”

She said she heard shouting, jeering and noise. but didn’t hear them complaining about not getting their diets.

Shepherd said she did not witness any officer using force on any of the inmates and the only force used was to put handcuffs on them and escort them.

She said neither of the two inmates she had contact with had any injuries.

“They were not complaining of any injuries, and I saw none.”

Shepherd could not say what caused the injuries listed in the former inmates’ lawsuits.

“If there is restraining…Resistance when being restrained, some injuries might occur.”

Before the incident, she only heard cursing, banging and screaming coming from the dorms.

She said one of the girls, while being escorted, had escaped and the officers chased her and found her in the dining hall. That inmate was not in her bra alone, but had on a jersey which ripped when she was resisting and “escaped.”

“I was present when she was captured in the dining hall and until she was taken to the dissociation unit. She had on her bra at all times.”

Shepherd said there was no issue with the two juveniles who complied with the orders to get on the floor when the officers entered the north dormitory, so no force was used on them.

She said when she saw their lawsuits, she was “surprised” to see photographs of the juveniles with the injuries they alleged they had sustained, since that was not the condition they were in when they were removed from the dormitories.

Also testifying on Tuesday was prison officer Yvette Pereira. Three other officers are expected to testify on Wednesday.

The eight former juveniles are represented by attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Nerisa Bala and Darryl Heeralal. Leading a team of attorneys for the State are attorneys Ivana Welch, Shalini Singh and Rachael Theophilus.