Court orders compensation for fireman shot in police incident in 2015

- File photo
- File photo

A fireman paralysed from the waist down after he was shot in an incident with the police has scored a substantial victory in his claim against the State.

Roosevelt Gaspard sought compensation for assault and battery, false imprisonment, wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and special damages for his injuries arising out of an incident on April 16, 2015.

Although his claim for assault and battery and wrongful arrest was dismissed by Justice Ricky Rahim on July 8, he will receive compensation for the other aspects of his lawsuit.

Rahim’s ruling said Gaspard will receive $200,000 for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, exemplary damages of $50,000, and special damages of $162,000 with interest.

Gaspard’s claim contended he was in an open yard in Sun Valley, San Juan, on April 16, 2015, when the police entered and began shooting. Gaspard was shot in the back after taking evasive action. He claimed the officers threatened to shoot him in the head and kill him, kicked him about the body, mashed him in the head and the nozzle of a firearm was pushed in his gunshot wound.

After almost a month in the hospital, Gaspard was charged with eight counts of robbery with violence but these charges were dismissed in 2019.

In its defence, the State admitted Gaspard was shot but that the officers were responding to an armed robbery in Cunupia where the suspects were traced to the Sun Valley premises after tracking a stolen iPhone. The State said Gaspard was with another man who shot at the police officers with an Uzi who returned fire. Gaspard testified at the trial before Rahim as well as four police officers for the State. One of the officers said on the ride to the hospital, Gaspard told him he was called to use a took to open a safe while another was questioned about a video recording of the Cunupia robbery. He admitted Gaspard was not one of the three people seen in the video but had been pointed out by two victims at the hospital.

In his ruling, Rahim said on the evidence, Gaspard was running away when he was shot in the back and did not accept his evidence that the police opened fire while he was standing outside the house.

“It is very plausible as the evidence on the whole gives

the impression that Gaspard had not been a participant of the robbery but had been brought to the scene perhaps for a specific purpose after the robbery.

“...While it is a fact that allegations of the police having opened fire on groups has surfaced in Trinidad from time to time, the court finds it implausible that the police would open fire (which is of course an illegality in any form) on one unarmed person standing outside a house when clearly the information was that there were several men involved in the robbery.”

He also said there was no evidence who fired the shot that injured Gaspard so he had not proven that the police shot him, but even if he was shot by the officers, he said they would have been acting in lawful self-defence and did not use more force that was reasonably necessary to repel the attack.

“Unfortunately for Gaspard, he found himself in the wrong company at the wrong time.”

Rahim’s reason for dismissing Gaspard’s assault and battery claim was the lack of evidence. On Gaspard’s arrest and detention, Rahim said the arrest at the scene was justified as there was reasonable and probable cause to arrest him.

However, he said there was no evidence there was an identification parade only the confrontation exercise at the hospital.

“It is manifestly unfair to have an identification made in such circumstances where it is obvious to the victim that this is the man the police held for the offence as he carries a gunshot wound and is under guard.” He also said there could not be an honest belief to charge Gaspard for robbery with violence given the evidence of the police officers who testified at the trial.

“There is an inference that despite the charging officer indicating that he was concerned with what he was being told to do he was nonetheless instructed so to do because by then Gaspard had already been shot having been in the company of one man who boldly shot at the police.”

As a result, Rahim said while Gaspard’s arrest was lawful, his continued detention, even while warded at the hospital, was not.

“He ought to have been released from police custody 72 hours after arrest.”

Attorneys Osbourne Charles, SC, and Owen Hinds Jr represented Gaspard while Maria Belmar-Williams represented the State.


"Court orders compensation for fireman shot in police incident in 2015"

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