A pair of siblings and their childhood friend from Sangre Grande, who were briefly charged with being members of a gang named after the alleged founder’s fondness of a rare breed of dog, have lost their malicious prosecution case against the State.
Delivering a judgement, last Friday, Justice Margaret Mohammed ruled that while PC Junior Bernard did not have sufficient grounds to charge brothers Ashton Beckles and Victor Trim and their friend David Moore with being members of the “Blue Pit Gang”, he (Bernard) did not do so maliciously.
“Even with the court’s finding that PC Bernard did not have reasonable or probable cause to charge the Claimants, in my opinion the basis of this finding is not sufficient for the Court to reasonably impute malice on the part of PC Bernard,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed also noted that the men did not know Bernard previously or alleged that he (Bernard) fabricated the case or evidence against them.
According to the evidence in the case, the trio, from Wallenville, Guaico, was arrested during the 2011 State of Emergency and charged under the Anti-Gang Act.
A little over two months later, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) discontinued the charges on the basis that there was no realistic prospect of convicting them.
Through the lawsuit, the trio was seeking compensation for their loss of liberty during the 65 days they were held on remand, $30,000 in groceries their relatives purchased for them while they were in prison, the little over $30,000 in legal fees they incurred before they were free and for damage to their reputations caused by their arrests being publicised by the police.
In defence of the claim, Bernard testified that he was aware that the men were associated to the founder of the gang, who named it after his fondness for the blue pitbull breed, for several years before he and his colleagues began intensifying surveillance after the legislation was proclaimed in August 2011.
Bernard and his colleagues claimed that they observed the trio and others engaged in a range of illegal activity including drug dealing and extortion.
They also alleged that the members of the gang all wore white T-shirts, blue jeans and bandanas.
In response, the men all admitted that they knew the alleged founder, who died in 2008, but denied that they knew he was engaged in any illegal activity or participated in any with him.
They claimed that there were unaware of him or any other person in the area having the particular breed of dog identified by the police and said that the clothing ascribed to them and other alleged members was not unique.
In assessing the evidence the case, Mohammed noted that not all the surveillance the police claimed they performed was properly documented, that the group was only seen wearing similar clothing on one occasion, and that nothing illegal was found when their homes and alleged hideouts were searched.
She stated that while Beckles may have made an incriminating statement to Bernard, he did not provide any specific reference to criminal activity.
As part of the judgement, Mohammed ordered the men to pay the State $41,250 in legal costs.
While the trio lost their claim, scores of the hundreds of citizens across T&T, who were arrested and charged under the controversial legislation have successfully pursued similar lawsuits and have received millions of dollars in payouts.
There are several such cases still pending.
The men were represented by Vasheist Maharaj and Robert Boodoosingh, while Kelisha Bello, Coreen Findlay, and Diane Katwaroo represented the State.