The mother of a mentally-ill man, who hanged himself in 2015 while in police custody, has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams and the Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud, claiming negligence.
Aside from that sum, the woman, Helena Peters, is asking the court to award $1.2 million in special damages for the funeral expenses and burial expenses she incurred.
According to the Statement of Claim, which was prepared and filed by attorney Eusi Anderson, Tiffon Peters and his mother are listed as the claimants, while the AG and the Police Commissioner are listed as the defendants.
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.
The AG is being sued in his capacity as the legal representative of the State of Guyana, while the Police Commissioner is the policy and operational head of the Guyana Police Force.
According to the claim, though Tiffon died of asphyxiation, the official investigation into his death has not yielded any conclusive answers almost three years later. It was stated that at the time of his death, the deceased had been in the custody and detention of the second named defendant and his agents at the East Ruimveldt Police Outpost.
“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.
It is noted that in 2012, Tiffon 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.
It was stated 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 second named defendant and his agents “negligently and recklessly” permitted implements which the deceased subsequently used to harm himself into 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 Guyana Police Force for the care and control of vulnerable and mentally unsound persons to such an extent that they caused Tiffon’s death.
According to the particulars of negligence claim, the second named defendant and his agents breached the deceased’s 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 said duty of care.
It was noted, too, that having arrested Tiffon on five previous occasions, they knew of his mental condition and consequential vulnerability to the risks of being detained outside a medical facility. “He (Police Commissioner) took no measures to avert those risks despite said knowledge,” the claim said.
It was pointed out that the second named defendant has a duty to ensure the safety and welfare of all detained persons whether they are likely to harm themselves or be harmed by other detained persons. “In breach of same, the second named defendant and his agents at the East Ruimveldt Police Outpost caused or failed to prevent the reckless and dangerous imprisonment of the mentally unsound Tiffon Peters,” the claim stated, while adding that the second named defendant and his agents were deliberately reckless and negligent in their decision to detain the deceased overnight at an institution and in a facility that was not suitable for him. The claim argued that they also failed to ascertain and meet his medication needs from the point of arrest to the time of 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 Attorney General has denied any culpability for the death. In his defence, the AG contended that neither defendants knew of Tiffon mental illness and pointed out that on the previous occasions he was released without spending a night in lockups on the basis that reasonable suspicion for detaining him no longer existed and not because of his mental health conditions.
“The defendants have no knowledge and make no admission to the illness and/or sickness of Tiffon Peters,” the AG said before contending that the defendants were not negligent in the execution of their duty to protect the deceased.
“The defendants will also contend that Tiffon Peters… was detained under suitable conditions, consistent with his constitutional right,” the AG argued before pointing out that the defendants acted lawfully and in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures of the Guyana Police Force.
“In the circumstances, the defendants will contend that the claimant is not entitled to any of the reliefs sought and that the action therein is wholly misconceived and unmeritorious and ought to be dismissed with costs,” the AG said.