Beetham brothers get damages for police break-in, arrest

VICTORY: Attorney Kareem Marcelle, centre, and his attorneys Larry Lalla,SC, and Vasheist Seepersad, leave the Waterfront Judicial Centre on Wednesday. - Photo by Jada Loutoo
VICTORY: Attorney Kareem Marcelle, centre, and his attorneys Larry Lalla,SC, and Vasheist Seepersad, leave the Waterfront Judicial Centre on Wednesday. - Photo by Jada Loutoo

ATTORNEY and community activist Kareem Marcelle and his two brothers have won their wrongful arrest and assault and battery lawsuit.

Police arrested them after forcing their way into the brothers’ Beetham Gardens home during a raid in 2018.

Marcelle is now calling for legislation and policy to govern how police officers obtain warrants.

He has also joined the call of judges and former police commissioner Gary Griffith for errant police officers to be personally held liable for their unlawful actions.

He said Wednesday’s decision was monumental, since they had spent five years waiting for justice.

“I felt that if my home was anywhere else in Trinidad and Tobago, in an upscale community, we would not have been met with the hate, force and anger.”

Marcelle said his pursuit of legal action was undertaken not only for his family, but for the much-maligned Beetham Gardens community.

That day, he said, the police did not come with the pride and trustworthiness they ask of the public.

“As a citizen and taxpayer, I felt aggrieved.”

He also said he was of the opinion his and his brothers' constitutional rights were trampled that day by the police.

“We know the police service has some work to do. We hope that this decision can signal to the professionalism expected of police officers, regardless of which community and home they want to execute warrants on.”

He also hopes the decision is used as a guide for the police.

“We know the majority of police officers are professionals. However, they must be held accountable.

“It cannot be that an officer can wake up one morning and go by a JP and say, ‘I see something,’ and you get a search warrant to break down people’s doors and threaten to kill them if they move.”

He called on the Attorney General, Parliament and the police service to “step up” and develop legislation and policies for obtaining and executing search warrants, since reform was needed.

At a hearing at the Waterfront Judicial Centre in Port of Spain on Wednesday, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams ordered the State to compensate the three in excess of $618,000, which includes interest as well as their legal costs.

They were represented by Larry Lalla, SC, and Vashisht Seepersad.

In her ruling, Quinlan-Williams held that the warrant used by the police to gain entry into the brothers' home on June 27, 2018, was maliciously procured.

She also found that the officer who obtained and executed the warrant, PC Lendel Ogaro, did not have reasonable or probable cause, and that was sufficient for the court to make a finding of bias.

“The fact that a justice of the peace issued the warrant was not good enough.”

She also said while there were no gaps in the brothers’ evidence, there was no support for the defence, as only Ogaro testified at the trial, though he was not the only police officer on the police exercise in Beetham Gardens that morning.

The brothers contended that around 5.30 am, officers used a sledgehammer to enter their property by destroying the back door .

Marcelle said he was dragged naked from his bed and threatened by one of the officers, who did not allow him to get dressed before putting him in handcuffs.

The three sought compensation for the damage to their property, the injury to Marcelle’s wrist by the handcuffs and damages for the anguish and embarrassment they suffered.

The judge awarded them compensatory and exemplary damages, which included, she said, an uptick for the assault. Special damages were awarded for the destruction to their home.

In their lawsuit, Marcelle said he asked the officers to let him inspect the warrant, but they refused, and he was only allowed a brief glance of the document.

He also said it was only after the policebecame aware he was a law student and scholarship winner that they began treating him with some dignity.

The brothers said they were interrogated by police before being released without being charged, because nothing illegal was found in their home.

In his testimony, Ogarro claimed he sought the warrant as he suspected the siblings were involved in illegal activity, based on surveillance of their home.

The judge pointed out no evidence was given to support this, either in a station diary or pocket diary entry.


"Beetham brothers get damages for police break-in, arrest"

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