A HIGH COURT judge has ordered the State to compensate a Moruga man for his wrongful arrest after police alleged he was driving with a forged driver’s permit in 2011.
Justice Mira Dean-Armorer awarded Trevor Lopez $175,000 in compensatory damages for malicious prosecution and an additional $50,000 in exemplary damages for the conduct of the policeman who, it appeared, "cut and mutilated" the permit to justify laying charges.
Dean-Armorer found that Cpl Auldwin Toussaint’s version of the events leading to Lopez’s arrest and prosecution was inconsistent.
She also faulted his testimony on the condition of the permit, saying from the evidence, the policeman never enquired of the validity of the permit before laying the charge, and that the State failed to prove its contention that Lopez told the police he “bought the permit from a man in La Lune.”
In awarding damages, Dean-Armorer said she took into account the "totally irrational, callous, wanton and oppressive" conduct of the policeman as well as the glaring lack of any reasonable cause to arrest Lopez.
Lopez was represented by attorney Abdel Mohammed. Stefan Jaikaran appeared on behalf of the State.
According to Lopez’s claim, on August 26, 2011, he stopped at a bar at Gran Chemin Road, Moruga, to buy a Malta Carib drink. His nephew was with him. When he left the bar, he noticed a police van with three police officers, one of them being Toussaint.
He was asked for his permit and insurance, which he gave to the policeman, who shouted, “De permit hot and the car hot.”
He was told to drive to the Moruga police station, which he did. At the station, he and his nephew were put in a cell without being told why they were being arrested. His nephew, a minor at the time, was taken out of the cell some three hours later and Lopez was taken to the Princes Town police station and put in a cell there.
He was fed a box of KFC and allowed to see his attorney once during his detention. He remained at the station for the weekend, without being questioned, before he was taken to court on August 29, 2011.
After the charge was read out, Toussaint told the magistrate the permit was found to be valid but asked for time to write to the Director of Public Prosecutions so that the case could be withdrawn. The officer also said he would return Lopez’s permit.
Ten days later, Toussaint had failed to return it and Lopez’s attorney at the time, Subhas Panday, made a formal request at the station for the permit. When it was handed over, the permit had been cut, butno reason was given by the officer.
Three court appearances later, the case against Lopez was dismissed, since the police failed to lead any evidence.
In his witness statement, Toussaint said he knew Lopez, since Lopez’s sister and Toussaint’s brother were in a common-law relationship, and when he asked for the permit at the bar, the insurance was valid but the permit was damaged, and appeared to have been cut so that the photograph could be inserted.
He said after he charged Lopez he made checks and was told by a licensing officer that a permit had been issued to Lopez.
Toussaint claimed when the permit was handed over, it was done in court, and was in the same condition in which it was given to police, “badly damaged.”
He said when Lopez took the permit, he did not complain about its condition.