Were the police negligent when they allowed a bailiff and his team to demolish the ancestral home of 73-year-old Deonarine Sookdeo in St Augustine on December 6, 2014?
This is the question Justice David Harris will answer when he gives his decision next Friday in a lawsuit filed by Sookdeo against the police for trespass and negligence. Sookdeo, through his attorneys Larry Lalla and Sarfraz Alsaran, is contending that the police, who accompanied the bailiff, were negligent in their duties as they “legitimised” the unlawful demolition.
According to the evidence in Sookdeo’s case, at about 8 am a bailiff and a group of police came to his home at Deena Trace and told him they were there to evict him and his family. Even as he produced his deed for the property, which had been in his family since 1921, the men, who did not produce any court order, bulldozed the two-storey house and put up a fence around the one-acre property, which was valued at over $3 million. When Sookdeo’s attorneys did a search in the land registry they found three false deeds had been attached to documents relating to the ownership of the property. Sookdeo, in a separate lawsuit, was able to have the false deeds removed from the registry.
“Within recent times the courts have seen many applications to set aside false deeds,” Lalla said, adding that land theft was very real in TT. “The police must be careful not to be used by criminal elements who are actors hiding in the shadows.”
As he urged Harris to find the State liable for the police’s actions, Lalla also asked for his client to be awarded compensation for trespass and negligence, including aggravated damages of almost $900,000.
In her reply, state attorney Monica Smith said Sookdeo’s claim was an abuse of process, since he should have gone after those who presented the fake deed, or the bailiff.
She also pointed out that in his other lawsuit, Sookdeo had not been awarded compensation for trespass. Smith said under the Police Service Act, one of the duties of a police officer was to preserve the peace, and that was exactly what they were doing that day.
While admitting that the police had a duty to satisfy themselves that the documentation presented to them to carry out the demolition was legal, Smith said the police who were at the house were on extra duty, acting on instructions from a senior officer. She also said there was no evidence they trespassed on the property, but were only there to keep the peace.
“And they did so,” she said.