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Justice not blind - West Kingston woman awarded $50m after security forces' bullet robbed her of sight

Published:Friday | May 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett

A WEST Kingston woman has been awarded close to $50 million in damages almost 14 years after a bullet, believed to have been fired by a member of the security forces, left her blind in both eyes during the 2001 police-military operation in her community.

The award, which was made in the Supreme Court last week, calls for the State to pay Latoya Brown, who was 19 years old at the time of shooting, $45 million with interest calculated at three per cent per annum from May 2006 to the date of the ruling.

Brown was also awarded $2 million for the cost of future care.

The shooting occurred during a lull in nearly three days of fierce gunfight between thugs and members of the security forces.

At the end of the shooting, 27 civilians were killed. A commission of enquiry later exonerated members of the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force who participated in the operations.

However, High Court Judge Evon Brown, in his ruling, said he accepted that the bullet which struck the west Kingston woman was fired by a member of the security forces, but rejected her claim that it was intentional.

Consequently, judge Brown had strong words for members of the security forces about the use of deadly force in situations where civilians may be killed or injured.

"There is no doubt that members of the security forces may - to be 'unforensic' for a moment - fight fire with fire when confronting criminal gunmen. However, even in the confrontation of armed outlaws, before they proceed to discharge their firearms, the public has to be considered," the judge wrote.

"In other words, when members of the security forces propose to discharge their firearms where persons other than armed criminals are, the law constrains the lawmen not to injure these innocent bystanders," he continued.

In the negligence suit filed against the Government, Brown said she lost sight in her eyes instantly after taking a bullet to the head near the intersection of North and Regent streets on the morning of July 9, 2001.

According to her, the shooting occurred moments after she decided to return home after she and a female friend encountered a group of soldiers and police personnel. Initially, she told police investigators she did not see who shot her, but insisted in court that it was a member of the security forces.

"Was it a member of the security forces who shot and injured the claimant? The unequivocal answer to that question is yes. The unchallenged evidence was that at the material time, only the members of the security forces fired their weapons," Brown concluded.

With a handkerchief tied around the wound and blood oozing down her face, Brown said she was placed on a handcart and taken to the Denham Town Police Station.

However, she said police personnel there told her there was no vehicle to transport her to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH).

Brown said she was transported to KPH on a handcart and immediately taken to the emergency room, where doctors found bilateral ruptured globes, right upper- and lower-lid lacerations, as well as lacerations and soft-tissue loss to "both temporal regions" (the areas where the bullet entered and exited).

Court documents show that her blindness was confirmed a week later by Dr Lisa Leo-Rhynie, who found that "there is no possibility of the claimant regaining any vision as the eyes have been removed".

Justice Brown said in assessing the damages, he took into consideration the woman's age at the time of the incident and the "blight" on her life caused by the disability.

"One manifestation of the blight upon the claimant's life is her prospects for marriage, at the higher level, or just intimate relationships at the lower level. I venture to say that the claimant's chances in this area have been greatly diminished," the judge wrote.

"The claimant's life may yet have that storied ending where she meets a prince whose love will transcend this most conspicuous of imperfections," he concluded.