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Court awards farmer $3.5m after he was forced to ingest laxative

Published:Monday | November 2, 2015 | 11:00 AMLivern Barrett

A Clarendon farmer who was forced to ingest a laxative by a policewoman who accused him of being a drug mule has won a $3.5-million award against the State.

The award, plus interest, was handed down last month after a High Court judge found that John Planter was humiliated and belittled and his constitutional rights breached. He had been taken from a line of arriving passengers at the Norman Manley International Airport in January 2012 and held in custody for some 26 hours because police personnel thought he was a "cocaine mule".

"The claimant's constitutional rights in this case were breached. By way of example, without necessarily identifying an exhaustive list ... the administration of a laxative to him and forcing him to defecate in a bedpan in full view of a female police officer is in breach of the Section 13 (3) right to protection from torture or inhumane or degrading punishment," High Court judge Kissock Laing wrote in his ruling.

Planter has been awarded $1.8 million for assault and battery; $1.2 million for aggravated damages, $500,000 for false imprisonment, and $50,000 for special damages.

The $3.5-million award will attract interest of three per cent annually from September 2012.

Court records show that the Attorney General's Department failed to respond to the suit in the time allowed by law and was refused an extension to enter a defence.

Planter claims his ordeal started when he returned to Jamaica on a flight from Guyana on January 24, 2012, and the policewoman approached him and enquired about the purpose of his trip.

Apparently not satisfied with his answer that he had gone on vacation and was shopping around for a water pump for his farm, Planter said in court documents that he was removed from the line, with his suitcase, and taken to a room where the bag was searched.

According to him, he was searched twice and his bag was passed through a scanner before he was advised that he was suspected of transporting drugs in his stomach.

The Clarendon resident claims he was handcuffed, then placed in a police car and taken to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) where an X-ray of his body was conducted.

When the result of the X-ray came back, according to the court documents, Planter indicated that he heard a female say "she saw something inside of my belly". He was uncertain if it was the policewoman or the doctor who did the X-ray.

As result, Planter claims he was directed to drink "a liquid" given to him and initially refused, but complied when he was told he would not be released if he did not drink it.

"After consuming the liquid, the claimant was told to pass his stool in a bedpan, which he did under the watchful eyes of the female police officer," Laing wrote, in summing up Planter's claim.

nothing found

The Clarendon man said nothing unusual was found in the stool, yet he was asked to ingest "a liquid" six more times.

In the end, he said no illegal drugs were discovered and he was subjected to a second X-ray, which the doctor indicated was "clean".

Planter said he was discharged from the hospital at 8:30 a.m. the following day and transported to the Police Narcotics Division before he was freed shortly after two o'clock.

The Clarendon farmer indicated that his ordeal left him feeling "embarrassed and belittled" and that he later cried because he felt "helpless as if he was not a human being".

Laing had strong words for the conduct of the police in the case, declaring that they did not have reasonable cause to believe that Planter had committed an offence.

"He ought not to have been deprived of his liberty at the airport and ought not to have been taken to the KPH. The decision to transport the claimant to the KPH made matters worse because of what transpired there," Laing found.

"I also find that the amount of damages which is awarded to the claimant, including aggravated damages, is adequate to punish the Crown for the conduct of its agents, to mark the court's disapproval of such conduct and to deter the Crown and its agents from repeating it," he continued.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com