In July, we told you about the remarkable lawsuit brought against the government by Shelton Pinky Tillett, Micah Thompson and Charles Woodeye. Tillett and Thompson are considered George Street Generals, and the now deceased Charles Woodeye was considered a lower level affiliate.
That gang connection is surely what police were thinking of when they arrested the trio in February of 2009. That's when John Paul Saldivar was killed on northern Ambergris Caye in a drug related murder. That same night, police found Thompson, Tillett and Woodeye on San Pedro. Investigators concluded the trio were somehow connected to the killing - although no evidence was presented to support that belief.
In fact the DPP did not order their arrest and in multiple memoranda to police, expressed grave reservations about the case - telling investigators in a letter that she was not clear why they had been charged.
And so that's why they sued the Government, the commissioner of Police and the Officer Commanding San Pedro. Their attorney Agnes Segura Gillett argued that they had been falsely arrested and imprisoned for almost a year.
Arguments were made in July and today Justice Minnett Hafiz handed down her decision.
She found that the Government and police failed to establish that there was reasonable suspicion to justify the detention, arrest and charge of the Claimants.
Accordingly, she found that Tillett, Thompson and Woodeye are each entitled to twenty five thousand dollars in general damages for the eleven months they were imprisoned.
It may sound like a fair sum, but far less than the two hundred thousand dollars each they were asking for. That request was based on the precedent set by Justice Hafiz who awarded police constable Gilbert Hyde twenty thousand dollars for 18 days of wrongful imprisonment when he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder in 2008.
So 20 thousand in damages for eighteen days, and twenty five thousand for 11 months!? Segura-Gillett says that while she is happy with the judgment, it doesn't quote add up:
Agnes Segura Gillett, Attorney for Tillett, Thompson and Woodye
"Well I am satisfied with the first half of the decision which basically is that there was false imprisonment and there was no justification for the imprisonment of my clients. As to the award of damages definitely it is far below what we had expected and what we had asked for. As you have heard they awarded each one of them only $25,000.00 in damages for imprisonment for eleven months. I think that their lives and liberty was worth more than $25,000.00. So we are not satisfied with that aspect of the decision. They have been awarded their loss of earnings in respect of one of them and they have been awarded their attorney's fees and the fees that they have paid in the criminal trial. However they have the recourse of appeal to appeal the quantum of damages and that will be up to them to decide how to go."
"Obviously your clients have a certain public reputation and while no evidence was used in court to indicate anything that they are George Streets affiliates or anything. Do you think that the quantum indicates that there some sub-textual implicit consideration of that because I would like to think if a lay person such as myself was in prison for eleven months I would get more than $25,000.00."
Agnes Segura Gillett
"I would hate to think that that was one of the considerations that were taken into account because at the end of the day they are human beings, they are entitled to liberty and they were deprived of that liberty. They were imprisoned in "supermax" they gave evidence that they slept on the ground. I mean all of these things affected them psychologically. They were deprived of access to their families. Even if you are a member of a gang you are still entitled to your freedom and you don't suffer any less because of who you are. I am reading from the judgment that they are saying that the Hyde case which we had relied on which awarded a police officer $20,000.00 in respect of 18 days is different from our case. To say that a police officer suffers more as a result of imprisonment I don't think that those are considerations that should have been taken into account and I will have to read the judgment to see what is the justification."
Her clients who were not present in court today - have not indicated if they plan to appeal and neither has the government.
Only the deceased, Charles Woodeye's sister was in court to hear the judgment.
Apart from the general damages of twenty five thousand dollars each, special damages were also awarded: Micah Thompson, $1,666 for his legal fees, Shelton Tillett, $6,666.00 for his legal fees and Charles Woodeye, legal fees of $1,666.00 and loss of earnings in the sum of $ 8,459.00 because he had a job at the Ministry Of Housing at the time of his arrest.
Government also has to pay Micha Thompson's cost of $6,666.50, Shelton Tillett's cost of $7,916.50 and Charles Woodye's costs of $ 8,781.25.