Million-dollar week - Cops to pay for wrongful detention
Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
The police have been hit with a $1.2-million bill after a man was locked up for seven days while investigators sought to determine if a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Fifty-year-old painter Ainsworth Edmondson was awarded the money with interest by Justice David Batts, who said the cops should pay for false imprisonment, assault, and special damages, including loss of earnings.
In handing down the award, Batts said it should have taken the police no more than four hours to determine if a bench warrant had indeed been issued for Edmondson.
The judge found that the cops were extremely negligent.
"It is a neglect, however, that regrettably is systemic," said Batts.
Edmondson was taken into custody by the police on December 11, 2006 and released on December 18, after he was taken before the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate's Court in St Catherine. He was not placed before the court where it was alleged the warrant was issued.
Edmondson said about 3:30 p.m. on December 11, 2006, he was in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, when he was arrested by the police. He was forced into a police vehicle and was kept in custody for seven days.
He said he told the police from the outset that the information was false. According to Edmondson, while he was being forced into the vehicle, he hit his head against the vehicle causing damage to a tooth. He filed a suit in June 2009 against assistant commander Ian Thompson and the attorney general.
In his ruling, Batts pointed out that attorney-at-law Gail Mitchell, who represented the defendants, in her closing submissions, rather wisely conceded that there had been false imprisonment.
"This has narrowed the issues for my determination. I say 'wisely' because the defence was that the first defendant who was in charge of a police patrol had taken the claimant into custody because of information received that there was a warrant outstanding for him at the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate's Court.
"I believe that is a lawful basis reflective of a reasonable ground to detain. However, that could not support incarceration for longer than it would take to make reasonable enquiry," the judge said.
Batts said even if Thompson held a reasonable suspicion, based on the report of a civilian, and even on Edmondson's own admission of having a criminal case that he thought had been resolved, then Thompson was duty-bound to satisfy himself that there was a real basis for continuing to hold Edmondson.
Thompson admitted to the court that in hindsight he should have seen the process through as to whether there was in fact a warrant. He said he had left Edmondson at the Half-Way Tree Police Station for the issue to be dealt with.
"On the question of the relevant period of detention, I have no hesitation in deciding that there was no lawful basis to hold the claimant for more than four hours. Our police force is equipped with radios and telephones and, in some cases, computers.
"If information is received that there is a warrant out for someone then a phone call ought to suffice to confirm or deny that fact," the judge stressed.
The judge noted that Thompson never returned to the police station or made any enquiries as to Edmondson's fortunes.