State to pay compensation over death of mentally ill man in police custody

Tiffon Peters

Agreeing to a settlement in a multimillion dollar suit filed against it by the mother of mentally-ill Tiffon Peters who hanged himself while in police custody back in 2015, the state has undertaken to compensate the woman for the death of her son.

At a hearing before High Court judge Navindra Singh on Monday, lawyers for the Attorney General and Police Commissioner against whom the action was brought, indicated their willingness to settle the matter.

The judge has, however, since given both sides no later than January 15th of next year to agree on the quantum to be paid over to the claimant—mother of the deceased, Helena Peters.

Attorney Eusi Anderson who represents Peters told Stabroek News that he was pleased that a settlement had been reached and expressed optimism that his client will be adequately compensated by the state.

He said that while his client may not get the more than $100M for which she was suing, he was confident that whatever is paid out would be adequate after he and attorneys for the state would have arrived at a figure.

On this point he said he was happy that acting Solicitor General Deborah Kumar has indicated the state’s willingness and commitment to not only settle, but pay. 

Earlier this year, Peters filed a $100 million lawsuit against the state claiming its negligence as the result for the death her son.

Aside from that sum, she was also asking the court to award $1.2 million in special damages for the funeral expenses and burial expenses she incurred.

Peters at the time of his death on January 22nd, 2015, was in custody at the East Ruimveldt Police Outpost following an accusation of simple larceny. He was arrested the previous day and had spent the night in the lockups.

In her statement of claim, Peters had argued that given her son’s peculiar medical condition the police breached his constitutional right to life and health while in their custody and acted contrary to the standard of behaviour and conduct expected of the reasonable man in the treatment of a vulnerable detainee, therein breaching the duty of care they had to her son.

According to the claim, though Tiffon died of asphyxiation, the official investigation into his death had yielded no conclusive answers almost three years on.

“At the time of his detention on 21st January, 2015, the deceased and his mental illness condition was known to the agents of the second named defendant,” the claim states.

The woman in her claim noted that in 2012, her son was detained several times at the police stations at Brickdam, Diamond and East Ruimveldt. “On each said occasion the deceased…was immediately released into the custody of his relatives on account of his mental illness,” the claim said.

The claimant had contended that at the time of his arrest, the deceased was in “good health without any complaints of illness or sickness to his custodians. It was pointed out that seven weeks prior to his arrest, the deceased visited the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation where he was prescribed anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers.

Under the law, the defendants had a duty to ensure that the deceased was kept in detention suitable to his unique characteristics and consistent with his constitutional right to life and health, the claim states, while noting that the Police Commissioner and his agents “owed a special duty of care to protect and to serve the deceased… as a person in their custody which they recklessly and negligently abrogated causing his premature death.”

It was noted further that the police commissioner and his agents “negligently and recklessly” permitted implements which the deceased subsequently used to harm himself in the cell. Those items, the claim said, could have been used to cause harm to other detainees.

The Police Commissioner and his agents were accused of negligently and recklessly disregarding standard operating procedures of the Police Force for the care and control of vulnerable and mentally unsound persons to such an extent that they caused Tiffon’s death.

They were also accused of failing to conduct adequate and routine prisoner checks in the cell in which the deceased was detained.

According to the claim, there was a failure to administer first aid to or have trained first aid personnel at the outpost to respond to the medical emergency of the “then living” Tiffon.

The state had, however, denied any culpability for the death. In his defence, the attorney general (AG) contended that neither defendant knew of Tiffon’s mental illness and pointed out that on the previous occasions he was released without spending a night in the lockups on the basis that reasonable suspicion for detaining him no longer existed and not because of his mental health conditions.

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