ONE of the accused charged with the murder of attorney and former Independent senator Dana Seetahal has been awarded more than $400,000 by the High Court.
Murder accused Garth Wiseman sued the State (Office of the Attorney General) on December 20, 2013, claiming damages, including aggravated and exemplary damages for injuries he received arising from two incidents of assault and battery against him by prison officers.
The first incident, according to Wiseman’s witness statements filed in the High Court, occurred on July 18, 2013 in which one officer, identified only as “Officer Alleyne”, assaulted and battered him.
In the second incident, which occurred on October 8, 2013, “Officer Alleyne” and other officers, whose names are unknown, assaulted and battered Wiseman.
In awarding the damages on October 9, at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, Justice Devindra Rampersad ordered: “The defendant (State) do pay to the claimant the sum of $30,000 as general damages for assault and battery with an uplift for aggravated damages with respect to the incident on July 18, 2013;
b. The defendant do pay to the claimant the sum of $50,000 as general damages for assault and battery and the sum of $225,000 general damages for injury to his left eye with an uplift for aggravated damages with respect to the incident on October 8, 2013;
c. The defendant do pay to the claimant the sum of $120,000 as exemplary damages;
d. Interest thereon at the rate of three per cent from the filing of the claim to the date of judgment; and November 12, 2019,
e. The defendant shall pay to the claimant the prescribed costs of the claim quantified by the court in the sum of $70,944.38.”
Wiseman was represented by attorneys Mark Seepersad and Terrance Davis.
Apart from the damages awarded, Rampersad directed the Registrar to forward the judgment to the Commissioner of Prisons.
The Express understands that Wiseman has been on remand for murder for more than 14 years with two aborted trials.
He was charged whilst in prison with Seetahal’s murder.
Procedural case background
According to Rampersad’s ruling, the State initially defended the claim by filing its defence on April 29, 2014, “and which was amended on September 16, 2014. The claimant (Wiseman) filed a reply on October 7, 2014 responding to and denying the allegations made in the defendant defence. At the trial, the defendant chose not to offer any evidence and did not file any witness statements”.
Wiseman, the ruling stated, filed three witness statements done by him. The first statement was filed on March 18, 2016, a second further statement was filed on March 24, 2016, and a third supplemental witness statement was filed on March 3, 2017, pursuant to an order of the court dated January 19, 2017. Wiseman had also filed witness statements from Christopher Selby and Shakeil Isaac in support of his claim. Both are also prison inmates.
A trial bundle was also filed and no objection was taken as to the admissibility of any of Wiseman’s evidence. On March 6, 2018, an agreed bundle of documents was filed detailing the medical reports and qualifications of one Dr Justo, who was the agreed expert witness.
Again, the State produced no evidence and offered none at the trial. Instead, the State filed a notice on May 13 2016, indicating that it admitted to the authenticity of
the witness statements filed on behalf of Wiseman and that it did not wish to cross-examine the witnesses.
Rampersad noted: “Having offered no evidence nor cross-examined the witnesses means that the evidence of the claimant remained uncontested and unchallenged and therefore stands as the only evidence before this court since the evidence was not so incredible as to suggest that it ought not to be accepted. On December 13, 2018, this court made orders regarding the filing and exchange of submissions by the parties. At item (5) of this order, this court stated: ‘In the event of the default by any party in respect of the filing and service of any submission on the days prescribed, the court will proceed to render its judgment without that submission.”
Rampersad added: “It is worth noting that the defendant did not file any submissions in this matter. The claimant filed his submissions on January 14, 2019. Therefore, this court proceeded to render its decision without any assistance from the defendant.”
On July 18, 2013, Wiseman’s witness statement said he was assaulted and battered by someone identified as “Prison Officer Alleyne”.
On that day, the officer hit Wiseman several times with his staff in the thigh, head, ribs and chest area.
Wiseman described the incident in his witness statement filed March 18, 2016 as follows: “Officer Ralph was there, at least I know him as Ralph. I signalled to Mr Ralph with a nod for me to go to the gate and collect the cigarette. Mr Ralph watch me and nod which I took as confirmation that permission was granted for me to go to the gate and collect the cigarette. I had to walk through an initial gate that separates the cells in the cell block from the officer’s area before I met the mesh gate between the officer’s area of the cell block from the main prison gate. When I got there I stretched my hand out and got the cigarette from the inmate. When I turned around Alleyne was standing up with his staff drawn. Now in jail my experience has taught me that an officer don’t draw his staff just so. The only time that the officers draw the staff is when they looking to hit you with it. Most of the officers don’t hit you just so, especially if they know you. So when I see Alleyne with the staff I say to myself that he looking to lash me with the staff and there was no reason for that. I did not do anything. He did not even say anything to me before I see the staff in his hand.
“Alleyne was holding the staff out lengthways and instructed me to sit. I refuse on account of how he was moving aggressive with the staff pointing out at me. If I sit down he could hit me with the staff easier. Alleyne just push out the staff towards me as if he was using the staff to force me down into a sitting position. The way the staff was coming it looked to me as if the staff was going to go across my neck. I went to push the staff away from hitting me but before I could he shift and hit me with the staff in the thigh first. When this happen I brakes but was too slow and Alleyne then hit me in my head. I also felt a lash across the ribs and chest area but that one I can’t say if he pushed me with the baton or hit me with the baton, or hand or foot. But I know that he hit me. The reason why is that it happened real quick and I was in shock trying to brakes the lash. Thankfully the lash to the head was not bad as if he did not get to connect me properly. But I know that I did nothing to Alleyne to deserve those lashes”.
Wiseman said he was taken back to his cell and thereafter taken to the infirmary where he was examined by the infirmary officer and was given painkillers, which he believed to be Panadol.
Wiseman said he asked to go to the hospital as his leg and head was in pain, however he was referred to the prison medical officer and subsequently examined by the medical officer.
He later reported the incident to ASP Johnson.