ROLES were reversed for young Beetham attorney Kareem Marcelle on Wednesday, when he appeared in a courtroom not as an advocate but as an alleged victim of police overreach.
Marcelle and his brothers Kern and Kevin have sued the State for malicious procurement of a search warrant, wrongful arrest, assault and battery, wrongful arrest, trespass and breaches of their constitutional rights.
The case arises from an incident at their home on June 27, 2018.
Their claim is being heard by Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams at the Waterfront Judicial Centre, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain.
Testifying on Wednesday were two of the Marcelles’ neighbours and a police officer, who denied they were on a "fishing expedition" that morning.
Marcelle and his brothers are represented by attorneys Larry Lalla, SC, and Vashisht Seepersad.
In their claim, the Marcelle brothers say they were at home when, at about 5.30 am, a contingent of 12 officers and soldiers surrounded the house, ordering them to open up. Kevin responded, but five seconds later, the police broke down the metal back door with a sledgehammer.
The Marcelles said the police rushed through the house, kicking bedroom doors, before arresting them with large guns pointed at their faces, while using obscene language.
Kareem said he awoke in shock and had a gun put to his head, while beneath the bedsheets he was naked. He said he was told if he moved, he would have his head blown off. The young lawyer, who was still a law student at the time, said he was pulled off the bed and had the bedsheets stripped off his lower body, exposing him, before he was handcuffed.
He was eventually allowed to put on pants and his tight handcuffs loosened, but only after one of the officers recognised him as the first winner of UWI’s law faculty’s Makandal Daaga scholarship.
All three brothers maintained they were not shown a warrant, though a piece of paper was flashed before their faces, and not told the reason for their arrest. They were also not allowed to observe officers searching their home, using a K-9 unit dog to assist them.
In their lawsuit, Kareem said they were only able to ascertain the reason for the search was for guns and ammunition, none of which was found in the house. Nor did the police uncover anything illegal.
Their lawsuit said from the utterances of some of the police officers, they were there on a "fishing expedition," as a senior officer told them if they found a “piece of weed or anything” they would all be arrested. They also said they were interrogated on issues the police should have known when the application for the warrant in Kevin’s name was sought from a justice of the peace.
Their lawsuit also provided particulars of their good character. Kareem was the first Daaga scholar; is the former assistant treasurer of the police’s InterAgency Task Force (IATF) youth club; was an ambassador for the IATF’s youth club and the Rose Foundation for community service, having received commendations from both groups; was a youth parliamentarian in 2012; and was the public relations officer of the Beetham Gardens community council.
Kevin is the owner of a mini-mart and the father of two, with only one prior charge, for vending without a licence, while Kern is the father of two and the director of a construction company, with no prior charges or convictions.
Their lawsuit maintains the police had no reason to obtain a search warrant; had no evidence of having done surveillance at the house to justify getting one; damaged their property; and were malicious in their actions.
“I was not able to stop the violation we had to go through,” Kareem said in his affidavit.
A neighbour said he heard banging on the brothers’ door and saw police and soldiers surround and enter the house. He said he went inside after the search and saw three broken doors. Another neighbour also testified to having witnessed the same thing.
PC Lendel Ogaro maintained he legitimately obtained the search warrant after doing surveillance on the house, having witnessed illegal activity. He could not produce the document, saying he left it in a drawer at the police station with other documents which went missing.
He denied Marcelle and one of his brothers were handcuffed, since there was no reason for the restraints, as they were not aggressive.
The judge is expected to hear submissions by the brothers’ attorneys as well as those for the State.