Sat | Aug 19, 2017

'State power run amok' - Appeal court upsizes award 2100% to pilot for confiscated plane

Published:Sunday | June 25, 2017 | 6:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
Norman Grindley/Chief Photo Editor The Supreme Court in Kingston.

Jamaica's appeal court has massively upsized the award to a Bahamian pilot who had his plane confiscated by the State over unsubstantiated allegations of drug running, capping his two-decade fight for redress.

The court effectively increased a lower court award by more than 2,100 per cent. But whether this victory satisfies the pilot, Dion Moss, is unclear; his lawyer Nesta-Claire Hunter, is yet to respond to requests for comment.

Initially, the Supreme Court ordered that Moss be compensated US$84,920.14, but he appealed the award as too low. The Court of Appeal agreed, and,= in condemnation of the behaviour of the State, ordered that they pay damages of US$1.88 million to the Bahamian, plus interest on US$56,236 of the award, representing the replacement value of the aircraft.

The decision issued at the end of May, however, was not unanimous. One of the justices thought Moss should have been awarded even more.

In the case laid out in court, the pilot offered private travel services charter flights. On one of those trips to Jamaica in June 1995, his plane, a 1970 six-seater Piper Aztec aircraft, was impounded by the police at the Boscobel Aerodrome and he was detained on the pretext that they found ganja on it.

Moss was never charged, nor was the alleged substance tested. Instead, he was taken to the airport and placed on a flight by the police and told never to return to Jamaica.

The plane was later sold at public auction in May 1996 by United States authorities who had taken possession of it in November 1995, according a statement by the attorney general.

Moss eventually sued the state, a case he won in the Supreme Court in November 2013.

At the appellate level, while Justice Marva McDonald-Bishop and Justice Dennis Morrison assented to the appeal and upped the award, Justice Almarie Sinclair-Haynes, dissented, saying Moss ought to be compensated US$2.16 million, plus another J$1 million in exemplary damages.

Sinclair-Haynes called the pilot's treatment "a classic case of high-handed, oppressive and unconstitutional action by state agents".

In the events surrounding his case, Moss had struck a deal in June 1995 with then chairman and CEO of Reggae Sunsplash Raphael Barrett to provide a package deal for patrons of the show, inclusive of air service.

The first charter flight landed June 24 in Montego Bay, venue of the music festival, then flew on to the Boscobel Aerodrome in St Mary, where it was left in the custody of the aerodrome's security.

 

PLANE SEARCHED TWO DAYS LATER

 

The narcotics police confiscated the plane on June 26 in an operation led by Superintendent Reginald Grant. The police took Moss and his two pilots into custody, and two days later, advised them that parcels found in the plane appeared to contain ganja.

On June 30, the police placed the men on a flight to The Bahamas, and told Moss he would never see the plane again.

Moss eventually sued Superintendent Grant and the attorney general for false imprisonment and wrongful detention of his personal possession. He later dropped the claim for false imprisonment.

Justice McDonald-Bishop, who wrote the majority appellate judgment, said the court strongly disapproved of the unreasonable and inexcusable detention of the aircraft and the failure of the respondents to account for it, but sided with the Supreme Court that a claim for exemplary damages was not established.

Sinclair-Haynes, in her dissent, was critical of the actions of Superintendent Grant and the officers under his control.

"The unchallenged evidence is that a substance resembling ganja was found on the aircraft while it was in the possession of the police," Sinclair-Haynes said. "It evokes more than a little suspicion that, having demanded the keys to the aircraft, the police waited two days to take the appellant to the aircraft and to search the airplane."

Significantly, she said, the substance was never tested and cannot, therefore, be declared to be ganja. Furthermore, no trial has been conducted and Moss was never charged.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com