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News day / Prior to the attack, Constable Judson Mohammed told the prisoner that it is the State which must provide him with his meals.

Yesterday, a High Court judge awarded PC Mohammed $30,000 in damages after he was successful in a lawsuit filed against the State for its continuing lack in providing metal detectors, batons and sufficient police officers to control the approximately 100 prisoners who arrive daily to the courthouse.

Mohammed is the second officer in almost a year, to be awarded damages after suing the State for injuries sustained in such attacks at the hands of prisoners.

Last May, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh in awarding Constable Bunny Kameel Ali damages, called for an “urgent assessment” of court facilities which he, said must comply with the appropriate standards of safety and security. Ali was struck in the eye by a prisoner in the cell block of the same courthouse and sued on the ground that the ratio of police officers to prisoners, was too small.

Yesterday, Justice Margaret Mohammed found that the State was negligent and ordered it to pay PC Mohammed $30,000 for the injury inflicted by the prisoner. In his lawsuit, PC Mohammed contended that because he refused to buy doubles for the prisoner, he was attacked. Justice Mohammed, in a 39-page written judgement, recollected the evidence given by PC Mohammed, whom she said, testified that on the morning of January 14, 2011, a prisoner who was in the cell, called out to him.

The prisoner, the judgement stated, was reputed to be the leader of a gang known as ‘the blood gang’. The prisoner asked PC Mohammed to buy him some doubles. The judge stated that PC Mohammed refused the prisoner’s request, telling him; “The State will provide you with breakfast.” This refusal did not go down to well with the prisoner, whom Justice Mohammed stated, threatened PC Mohammed.

When PC Mohammed opened the cell gate, to take prisoners into the courtroom, the prisoner attacked him with a sharp metal object. PC Mohammed sustained a cut above the left eye. Justice Mohammed stated that other prisoners joined in and cuffed and kicked the bleeding officer. PC Mohammed later sought treatment at San Fernando General Hospital.

The grounds of the lawsuit, filed by attorney Saira Lakhan, were that the State ought to have provided a sufficient number of police officers to man the volume of prisoners.

Also, there was a lack of sufficient handcuffs, batons, locks for the cells, metal detectors, a handbook on safety and updated training on how to manage dangerous prisoners or those who are ill with contagious diseases. In fact, the judge added, the lawsuit stated that cops are not trained to deal with prisoners who may riot or revolt in the cell block. In reference to Mohammed’s evidence, the judge stated that on the day of the attack, there were only five batons in the cell block, one of which was broken and held together with masking tape. There were 15 handcuffs to be used on 100 prisoners.

The State challenged the lawsuit and submitted to Justice Mohammed that there were seven to ten police officers on the morning of the incident and that was sufficient to deal with the volume of prisoners.

The duty of police officers assigned to the cell block, is to offload prisoners from the prison van, place them into a cell and then escort them upstairs into the dock of various courtrooms.

In giving her ruling, Justice Mohammed said the State failed in its duty to provide adequate staff and supervision on the morning of the incident. If there was a sufficient number of officers as well as adequate supervision, the risk of injury to PC Mohammed would have been minimised. She ordered the State to pay him $30,000 in general damages plus interest at 2.5%. The State must also pay his legal cost of $9,250.25.

The judge made no comment on the continued lack of manpower in the Holding Bay cells of the San Fernando Magistrates’ court, unlike Justice Boodoosingh who in the lawsuit filed by officer Ali, said, “The State must do its part to ensure that no one is injured in the future as a result of a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety and security of those who use our judicial buildings.”

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