(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – The state is now facing a potential lawsuit for “tortious assault and battery” by a family that was tear-gassed by police while at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain last Sunday.
Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob has been given 28 days within which to provide specific pieces of information to attorneys representing the family or, in default, a civil claim will be filed at the High Court, the family’s attorneys warned on Wednesday.
The warning came in the form of a letter written by attorney and Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West Dinesh Rambally, and e-mailed to Jacob.
Rambally, along with attorneys Prakash Ramadhar, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan, are representing Javed Daniel, Judine Bonaparte and their two children—Idris, five, and Zakariyya, four.
In the letter, Rambally said the family was at the Savannah, where they were participating in “a peaceful prayer and reflect event” when police discharged tear gas canisters in their direction.
“From our clients’ observations, the persons who were at the Queen’s Park Savannah were not involved in any illegal, hostile or disruptive activities,” Rambally wrote.
He said there was no destruction of public property by those at the event, nor were there any acts of violence or unruly behaviour that could justify the intervention of police or the “deployment of forceful crowd control tactics”.
“At no point in time were our clients warned or told by police officers that they were engaged in illegal activity or that their conduct constituted a threat to public order or was infringing any law, regulation or policy,” Rambally stated.
Screams of fear and pain
Last Sunday, officers moved in on a crowd of approximately 300 people gathered at the Savannah protesting “these mandates of experimental (Covid-19) injections, safe zones and segregation”.
The event was organised and led by Umar Abdullah, head of the First Wave Movement. He was arrested at the event and charged on Monday for leading a march around the Savannah without police permission.
The following day, Abdullah wrote to Jacob, informing him of two more planned “peaceful demonstrations” set to take place at the Savannah over the course of the next two Sundays—“Push-Back 2, the Awakening” and the “Worldwide Rally for Freedom”.
In his letter on Wednesday, Rambally said while at the event, without any warning police fired gas canisters in the proximity of his clients, which caused them to become fearful for their safety.
“Upon impact, the said canisters began dispersing a noxious substance which my clients have now come to understand was tear gas. My clients tried to flee the area as fast and as best as they could. However, the tear gas surrounded them within a matter of seconds and they were all exposed and forced to inhale the said gas,” the attorney wrote.
He went further to say the two children began “screaming in pain and fear” since the gas made them, along with their parents, immediately feel nauseous while, at the same time, experience a strong burning sensation in their lungs and eyes.
“The children described that they felt as if they were choking and at the same time wanting to throw-up. As my clients began making their way out of the surrounding gas, several persons, presumably recognising the severity of their situation, rushed to their aid and began administering water to our clients’ eyes and faces in an attempt to soothe the effects of the said gas,” the letter stated.
For the next 48 hours, the symptoms continued, Rambally stated. However, while the physical symptoms have now dissipated, the children have both expressed fear to their parents of going out in public and, in particular, of returning to the Queen’s Park Savannah, he added.
No medical standby facility
In addition, Rambally said the parents have since had to take their children to seek counselling.
“Despite the unjustified, excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas by the police, it was even more disturbing that there were no medical personnel and/or equipment present when the police took the decision to use tear gas.
“Our clients have become anxious over the fact that had the effects of the tear gas been more severe they would not have had access to urgent medical assistance and the well-being of their family could have been severely compromised,” the letter stated.
The justification and necessity for officers to use tear gas on that day rests upon the shoulders of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the specific officer who took the decision to authorise its use, Rambally said.
“The use of tear gas on our clients, in the manner aforementioned, constitutes prima facie tortuous assault and battery upon our clients.
“The continued threat of tear gas being used by the police in the context of my clients’ presence at the Queen’s Park Savannah while they were merely engaging in reverent prayer and reflection raises a myriad of constitutional concerns for which our client intends to take advice and write to the Attorney General in due course,” the letter stated.