Shanique Myrie’s sincerity in testifying about her treatment by Barbadian immigration officers impressed the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and this was pivotal in their ground-breaking awarding of non-pecuniary damages to her in Friday’s ruling.
“Given the totality of the evidence and its overall consistency, the Court was impressed by the sincerity of Ms Myrie and accepts the credibility of her evidence. The Court is satisfied that the essential allegations of Ms Myrie in relation to the body cavity search have been established and that the burden of proof as far as it weighed upon her has been properly discharged”, the court ruled in relation to the Jamaica woman’s complaint against Barbados.
The court on Friday ruled that Myrie’s right to entry to Barbados on March 14, 2011 as enshrined in a 2007 free movement decision and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas had been breached.
After reviewing the testimony in the case, the CCJ also came down on her side in respect of her allegation that she had been subjected to a humiliating cavity search for drugs and had been kept in unsanitary conditions.
Myrie’s evidence was weighed in particular against two Barbadian police officers, a man and a woman, who had denied the contentions of the Jamaican woman.
The Trinidad-based court was able to view video footage from surveillance cameras and had also visited the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados as part its effort to put the facts of the case “in a solid and reliable context of time and place”.
Based on the video and the subsequent testimony of the court, the CCJ found that when Myrie arrived at immigration she stated that she would be staying with a Pamela Clarke who she had met on the internet. It was this answer that caused her to be referred by the immigration officer to her supervisor. The supervisor, Merlo Reid, escorted Myrie to the Secure Immigration Area (SIA). Before interviewing Myrie, Reid was approached by police officer Everton Gittens from the Drug Squad Office who said that he (Gittens) wanted to interview Myrie. When Reid interviewed Myrie she repeated the answers she had given the immigration officer and he found no cause to deny her entry to Barbados. He endorsed her passport and granted her a 30-day stay after which she returned to the waiting area. Reid then advised Gittens and the female police officer Sirphene Carrington, who were both dressed in plain clothes, that he was finished with Myrie.
Reid and Carrington then took Myrie to the Drug Squad office which is upstairs of the SIA and in the exclusive use of the Royal Barbados Police Force. It was in the custody of these two police officers that Myrie said she was subjected to abuse and finger raped by the female police officer during the cavity search.
Myrie had arrived in Barbados at 4.30 pm on the day in question and she was taken to the drug squad office around 5.11 pm. The court’s judgment said that Myrie was interviewed for about 20 minutes to determine whether she could be a drug courier and then taken by both Carrington and Gittens to the customs area to have her luggage checked. Myrie had provided the cellular number for Clarke – the woman she had said she was meeting in Barbados – but when Gittens called and identified himself as from the drugs squad, Clarke denied that she knew Myrie but said she had been helping a friend by the name of Daniel Forde who was outside the airport to collect Myrie. Gittens would later find Forde and he confirmed that he was there to pick up Myrie.
By this time, a search of Myrie’s luggage by a customs officer had found nothing and the two police officers took Myrie back to the SIA and the immigration supervisor, Reid, around 5.45 pm. Gittens told Reid that Myrie had been untruthful about who she would be staying with. Reid then spoke himself to Clarke who said that she was trying to do a friend a favour. Reid then told her that Myrie would be denied entry and Clarke apologized for her action.
After Myrie and another passenger who was in the same plight were returned to the SIA around 6.36 pm they were led to detention cells in the SIA. They were not allowed access to their luggage or cell phone. They spent the night there and the following morning three female immigration officers visited and told them to get ready to leave. There was no time for them to shower. They were then taken to the plane in a manner which made it apparent that they were being deported and upon entering the plane, Myrie’s passport was returned.
The court then set about adjudicating on the disputed facts, two of which were the body cavity search and the unsanitary conditions. Myrie had stated that the floors of the cell and bathroom were muddy and the walls were filthy with brown marks that looked like faeces. Further, the cell was strewn with tissue paper and smelt like faeces. Barbados denied this and an immigration officer who testified said that the detention rooms are cleaned every day and that there was no smell of faeces on the day she visited Myrie’s cell. However, the court noted that in her first witness statement, the officer had seemed less certain of this.
On the other hand, the state of Jamaica produced three witnesses who spent a night in the detention cell, one of them a week before Myrie. They all testified that cell was in an insanitary state and one of them produced photos taken by a cell phone camera and which were later admitted into evidence. These photos were shown to immigration supervisor, Reid, who acknowledged that they reflected insanitary conditions. In its judgment, the court said that after hearing all of the evidence it “accepts that the conditions of Ms Myrie’s detention were deplorable, falling well short of what was satisfactory”.
On the question of the cavity search and drug interrogation, Myrie told the court that this did not take place in the large office of the Drugs Squad but in a smaller one at the left side of the larger office. She gave a detailed description of this smaller office and this proved to be significant in the assessment of the evidence. She said she was grilled by the two officers about the lady who she said was to pick her up at the airport and the man who eventually turned up for her. During the questioning, Myrie told the court that she was accused of lying, particularly by the female officer Carrington who she said used slurs and expletives like “I hate these f… Jamaicans”, “You Jamaicans are all liars” or “they only come here to steal our men and carry drugs into our country”.
Myrie also told the court that after her suitcase was searched she was told by the male officer that he was going to take her to the hospital for a body search. He called someone on the phone and thereafter two the officers discussed something by themselves. Thereafter, Myrie testified that the female officer took her into a bathroom across the hall from the Drugs Squad office. Myrie testified that after they entered the bathroom the female officer locked the door and she was ordered to take her clothing off. Myrie said when she was asked why she had to do this the female officer replied that if she did not comply she would end up in prison.
“Ms Myrie states that she complied with the demand and the officer took a pair of gloves out of her pockets and, in extremely humiliating circumstances, conducted a painful body cavity search. When she was through, the officer told Ms Myrie to get dressed, took off the gloves and threw them in a bin. Ms Myrie said that she cried and felt ashamed, dirty and angry. She said she felt she had been treated like a criminal”, the court said in its judgment.
When she returned to the drug squad office, the male officer was holding her passport and said he would have the entry stamp cancelled if she didn’t tell the truth about her visit to Barbados. Myrie said she stood by her story and was then subjected to more verbal abuse.
The CCJ said that Barbados strenuously objected to Myrie’s account and the two officers in question Gittens and Carrington, both in signed statements in the early part of the police investigation and in court testimony, denied that Myrie had been subjected to a cavity search. They also said she had not been suspected of being a drug courier, neither did they utter slurs against her. Further, they said that the interview had taken place in the large drugs office and that the male officer had not told Myrie that he had been working at the airport for seven years. It was these latter two points on which the court disbelieved the police officers.
In its analysis of the disputed facts, the court said that there were undoubtedly some inconsistencies in Myrie’s evidence and these related to her sense of time and the sequence of events.
“These and other similar inconsistencies, some of which are specifically alluded to in this judgment, appear to arise more from a blurred and imperfect recollection of events that took place long before her witness statement was prepared than from any deliberate attempt to deceive. Inaccuracies of this kind are understandable but they are neither of great consequence nor decisive provided that the witness’s evidence is otherwise sufficiently clear and cogent and upon an objective assessment of the facts in their entirety and all the surrounding circumstances strike the fact finder as honest”, the CCJ ruling said.
It pointed out that Myrie complained about the treatment she received in Barbados immediately upon her return to Jamaica. At the airport in Jamaica she related to a friend all of the events she testified about including the cavity search. An oral report was then made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and she was told to put her complaint in writing. That subsequent report was consistent with the evidence that Myrie gave before the CCJ.
The court said that there was a 44-minute period when the two officers were with Myrie during which the interrogation and the cavity search could have occurred. It said that several aspects of Myrie’s evidence were corroborated by other evidence. It said two examples will suffice.
“Firstly, Ms Myrie’s detailed description of the small office in which she says she was questioned by Officers Gittens and Carrington and the bathroom in which she claims she was subjected to the body cavity search were essentially accurate as the Court was itself able to establish when it visited the airport on 16 March 2013. What is interesting about this is that if Officers Carrington and Gittens are to be believed, Ms Myrie at no time entered either of these rooms. The Court found to be entirely unconvincing the explanations advanced by Barbados for Ms Myrie’s accurate description of rooms Barbados claims she never entered. With respect to her ability to describe the bathroom upstairs, the explanation was provided by Officer Gittens who testified that all the bathrooms in the SIA look the same, a statement that not even Officer Carrington was able to confirm. Even if all the bathrooms look the same, however, it does not explain how Ms Myrie could have known this. She clearly could not.
“With respect to her description of the small office in which she was questioned, it was suggested by counsel for Barbados that Ms Myrie was able accurately to describe this room because the Jamaican diplomatic delegation which visited Barbados to investigate this incident could have provided the description to Ms Myrie so that the latter’s evidence could be bolstered. This explanation is evidently nothing more than speculation. In any event, this very serious allegation was never put to the Jamaican High Commissioner when she gave evidence and the Court rejects it. Secondly, when he testified, Officer Gittens denied that he had ever said to Ms Myrie the statements attributed to him by her. Uncannily, however, in answer to a question from the Bench, Officer Gittens admitted that at the time of the events in question he had indeed been working at the airport for seven years as Ms Myrie had stated. Here again, no reasonable explanation was given for the fact that Ms Myrie did know this other than that she had heard it from Officer Gittens himself. The Court rejects the explanation provided by Officer Gittens that Ms Myrie came by that knowledge because he, Officer Gittens, is “a popular and well known man around the airport”. On the evidence before the Court, until recently, Ms Myrie did not even know the name of Officer Gittens to whom she referred in her witness statements as “the male officer”. Interestingly, Officer Carrington testified that not even she was aware of the number of years Officer Gittens had been working at the airport. These two examples are not by themselves decisive but they support and strengthen considerably the conclusion that as between the version of events provided by Ms Myrie on the one hand and that provided by Officers Gittens and Carrington on the other, the former is to be preferred.“
The court in its judgment also pointed out that the witness statements provided by officers Gittens and Carrington were almost literally identical. The court noted that during the internal Barbadian investigation of the matter it must have been clear that these two officers had played a significant role in the handling of Mrie yet “Astonishingly, they were not separately interviewed by the investigators but were instead allowed to write their own statements which they did, as Officer Gittens testified, in collaboration with each other”.
Their written evidence did not contain as many inconsistencies as Myrie’s and they had other advantages as they were able to review video footage from the airport to refresh their memories.
The court said that it also considered that Barbados would have been aware from its own investigation that officer Carrington was the female officer at the centre of the cavity search allegations and therefore one would have expected that Bridgetown would have been anxious to present her as a witness. However, Barbados never called Carrington and it was the CCJ that invoked its powers to ensure that Carrington attended as a witness.
In its judgment, the CCJ said that in weighing the evidence of the two officers, it found it difficult to accept that trained drug squad officers never suspected Myrie of transporting drugs, never verbalized the thought to her and never examined her cell phone.
“The Court considers that these denials undermine the credibility of their testimony” and went on to say that in relation to Myrie’s contention about the cavity search that she had established her case.
Barbados was ordered to pay Myrie the amount of Bds$2240.00 (being the equivalent of JA$112,000.00) for pecuniary damages and the sum of Bds$75,000.00 for non-pecuniary damages.
The judgment was delivered via video conference from the CCJ’s headquarters in Port of Spain to courtrooms in Barbados and Jamaica.