Gov't pays half a million for illegal police search
Corey Robinson, Staff Reporter
LAWYERS who represented Hadrian Christie, an attorney-at-law who successfully sued the Attorney General's Department after policemen unlawfully searched his motor vehicle in a random stop on Harbour Street in Kingston, has offered to help educate policemen about the implications of their stop-and-search practices.
The outreach followed a $500,000 consent judgment of the court as a result of the suit filed by Christie against the Attorney General's Department and the four policemen: Inspector George Williams, Special Constable Derrek Campbell, Constable Adian Dawkins, and Constable Trudi-ann Forbes.
Stuart Stimpson, one of the lawyers who represented Christie, said it is clear that police personnel need to be educated about the law governing spot checks and searches.
"We are availing ourselves to the Attorney General's Chambers to help in the training of officers that may be required, if needs be," Stimpson told The Gleaner yesterday.
"We see that police officers seem not to be aware of amendments to the Constitution, the Charter of Rights, and the fact that though they have an authority or discretion, that discretion must only be exercised when they have reasonable and probable cause," explained Stimpson, adding that Christie has also expressed a willingness to assist in the police training.
Christie was driving on Harbour Street, downtown Kingston, last April when he was stopped by the police who demanded a random search of his vehicle. He refused on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Christie, in court documents, said he attempted to educate the police about the laws governing the search of motor vehicles but was reportedly threatened to be arrested and charged.
His vehicle was forcibly searched by the police who said it matched the description of one that the police wanted.
Christie subsequently sued for false imprisonment, trespassing on property, and assault for threat of arrest. It is unclear what led the Attorney General's Department to settle the matter. Attorney General Patrick Atkinston, when contacted yesterday, said he was not informed of the court's ruling.
He, however, insisted that it was "not true" to say random stops and searches were illegal.
The incident involving Christie preceded a ruling by Supreme Court judge David Batts, who in June last year ruled that the police have no power under the Road Traffic Act to arbitrarily stop and search motor vehicles.
Batts, in that ruling, ordered the Government to pay $2.8 million in damages to a motorist who was assaulted by the police when he stopped in St Catherine in May 2007. In that judgment, Batts emphasised that lawful reasons must be given by the police for stopping and searching a motor vehicle.
But yesterday, acting Police Commissioner Glenmore Hinds sought to make it clear to the public that stop-and-search operations by the police were not illegal, and that incidents have to be dealt with in light of their individual circumstances.
"Every case has to be judged on its own merit. So the justification would have to be by the officer who would have had good reason to stop and search any person. The court ruled on a particular case and on the circumstances of that case," said Hinds, referencing last year's ruling by Justice Batts.