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Wrongfully detained? Woman claims she was illegally locked up on trumped up charges

Published:Tuesday | May 10, 2016 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle
Miguel Lorne

A Jamaican woman who spent three weeks in custody before she was taken before the court on a charge of possession of three ounces of ganja, is complaining that her detention was unfair.

Donnasha Dobson, a 27-year-old bartender told The Gleaner that on in January 7 she went to a bar at the back of the Linstead police station, St Catherine to ask about a bartending job when a policeman accused her of trying to smuggle items to a prisoner in the cell.

She said she was frightened by the policeman's accusation and claimed that he "draped me up". When she was taken before the court on January 27, she was told she was charged with possession of three ounces of ganja.

Attorney-at-law Ian Davis who was retained to represent her only a few days before her first court appearance said the delay in bringing her before t he court was a breach of her constitutional rights and an infringement of her liberty. He said she should have been granted station bail for such a minor offence. He said the police failed to abide by the guidelines laid down by the government last year in the Mario Deane case, that states that persons arrested for small quantities of ganja must not be put in jail.

The Mario Deane case came to public attention in August 2014. The 31-year-old construction worker was locked up by the police for a ganja spliff. He died as a result of a brutal beating while in custody. Deane's death forced the government to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act and issue new guidelines to prevent persons held with small quantities of ganja from being detained in lockups.

Attorney-at-law Michael Lorne who is handling the Mario Deane estate, said Dobson should have been granted station bail or even granted bail in her own surety, in accordance with the guidelines.

"Many policemen are not fully aware of what the guidelines mean and steps should be taken to spell out in simple language what the amendment means and how you treat citizens for small amounts of ganja," Lorne said. He called for the guidelines to be posted prominently at every police station.

Lorne said conditions of lockups are horrible and disclosed that he had recently written to the government calling for improvement in the lockups, especially the one at the Central Village police station in St Catherine where women are detained. He said he had received numerous complaints from women prisoners about the conditions at that particular lockup.

Dobson said she was scared while at the Central Village police station lockup and wondered if she would survive. She said she had to sleep on the "bare concrete" as instructions were given not to put clothes on the concrete bunk. The conditions in the cell "were very bad" and at times we were spoken to as if we were dogs," she disclosed.

She also claims that the police were forcing her to admit to owning contraband that did not belong to her.

She said she believes the police deliberately refused to grant her bail just to punish her. She was granted bail in the sum of $6,000 with a surety when she first appeared in court on January 27.

Dobson pleaded guilty to possession of three ounces of ganja on her next court appearance and Resident Magistrate (RM) Jacqueline Wilcott fined her $300 or ten days' imprisonment.

"I was wrongfully charged, wrongfully punished and I pleaded guilty in an effort to end the nightmare and the stress of coming to court," she said.

But Dobson's court attendance is not over as she is now seeking to recover a Samsung Galaxy cellphone, $1,050 and a navel ring which she said were taken from her when she was arrested and placed in custody.

When her lawyer applied to the court for the return of the items, the police said that the items were not located. The resident magistrate told Dobson to return to court on May 9 for the police to give an update on the items.