The trinidad Guardian / Less than five months after being slammed by a High Court judge for having “acted without reasonable and probable cause” when he was accused of maliciously prosecuting a fellow police officer, Harold Phillip has now been handed the reins of the Police Service.
Phillip is scheduled to act as police commissioner from tomorrow following Stephen Williams’ decision to proceed on three months vacation. Since 2012, Williams has been re-appointed to act in the position six times. On March 15, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ruled that Phillip acted “reckless” when he arrested Harridath Maharaj and laid two charges against him arising out of the illegal felling of trees.
Maharaj claimed “impropriety by political office holders” was responsible for the charges being laid against him. Phillip did not seek any advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) when he laid the charges against Maharaj. Maharaj was awarded over $300,000 compensation for the malicious prosecution. And now his suitability to act as Police Commissioner is being questioned by some members of the Police Service who are viewing his appointment with some consternation.
However, Insp Michael Seales, president of the T&T Police Service Social and Welfare Association, has pledged his association’s willingness to work with Phillip. The matter involving Phillip stemmed from an incident in 2004 when Maharaj was arrested and charged for the illegal felling of trees during his investigation of the same matter.
In November 2007 the charges were eventually dismissed and Maharaj sued the State claiming he was framed. Phillip, then an assistant superintendent of police, was the complainant in the matter. In his ruling in the matter, Seepersad slammed Phillip for his conduct in the investigation of the case. Seepersad deemed the decision to charge Maharaj as “fundamentally flawed” as there was not enough evidence present.
“Given the factual matrix in this case and given that the (Phillip) was at the time an Assistant Superintendent of Police, a more thorough investigation should have been conducted prior to the institution of the charges,” Seepersad stated in his judgment.
Seepersad said there were “glaring gaps and deficiencies in the evidence” in the case. “An officer with the seniority that Phillip had at the time, should have exercised a greater degree of caution and should have conducted a more in-depth and detailed investigation,” Seepersad stated.
“There is also no evidence to suggest that any advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was sought prior to the institution of the charges,” the ruling stated. Seepersad said it also seemed “irregular” that “a memorandum issued by a permanent secretary from a government ministry was sufficient to initiate an investigation.”
“The court also noted that another senior officer Mohammed was conducting investigations but no reason was ever advanced as to why he was removed and why (Phillip) was assigned to the instant matter,” the ruling stated. “The circumstances that operated in this case raises issues of concern given that this memorandum resulted in the arrest of an officer who was conducting his own investigation into alleged illegal activity involving officers attached to the Forestry Division which fell under the purview of the very Ministry from which the memorandum emanated,” it stated.
Seepersad warned that the Police Service must guard itself from “actual or perceived political influence.” “The Police Service must always jealously guard its processes from actual or perceived political influence and given the allegations that were made by (Maharaj) of alleged impropriety by political office holders, greater care should have been exercised by Officer Phillip,” Seepersad stated.
“Police officers are vested with the trust of the citizenry and they must always ensure that their duties are discharged without bias, favour or ill will. (Phillip) acted without reasonable and probable cause and the court can and does infer malice and finds that in preferring the charges against (Maharaj), (Phillip) was actuated by malice. Accordingly the court finds that (Maharaj) was maliciously prosecuted and he is entitled to receive an award of damages,” she stated.
Seepersad ruled that Phillip “did not undertake a full and comprehensive investigation” into the matter.
“The facts upon which the charges against (Maharaj) were premised were fundamentally flawed and deficient and officer Phillip’s decision to charge Maharaj without the requisite evidence that was necessary so as to form a reasonable belief in the guilt of the Phillip, was in the circumstances reckless,” Seepersad said.
Attempts to reach Phillip on his mobile were unsuccessful. Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) Dr Maria Therese Gomes also could not be reached.
POLICE ASSOCIATION: WE ARE WILLING TO WORK WITH HIM
The Sunday Guardian sought a response from the association on the matter which said it was willing to work with Phillip and his deputies.
Seales said: “The association has no view in relation to Mr Phillip’s appointment. What the association is going to do is work with him in spite of everything. It does not pose a problem with the association, we would have looked at the judgment and looked at the outcome of the judgment.”
He said at the end of the day, one of the things that the association has always done was to look at what happened in the past and whether the circumstances would exist in the future.
“We hold the view that under our watch things like that will not take place, we are vigilant to anything like those things happening, so if a member is affected in any way in relation to the stewardship of Mr Phillip we would be the first to at least try to bring some kind of resolve in relation to any regard,” Seales said.