Trinidad: Gardener wins lawsuit for false ganja charges

Attorney Kevin Ratiram and William Charles

(Trinidad Newsday) A Siparia gardener won his lawsuit on Monday in the High Court against police prosecuting him for marijuana 15 years ago.

Justice James Aboud ordered damages be assessed for William Charles, 70, of Quinam Road.

On March 13, 2004, Charles was riding his bicycle home while police searched men along Forest Reserve Road. During the exercise, police pulled Charles off his bicycle, placed him in the back seat of a police vehicle, took him to Fyzabad Police station and then put him in a cell.

In his lawsuit against the State filed by attorney Kevin Ratiram, Charles recalled that he was taken before a magistrate in Siparia for having two bags of marijuana. After a preliminary inquiry, he was committed to stand trial in the High Court. In 2009, the first trial was aborted. In 2011, a retrial was conducted and Charles was found not guilty.

Ratiram argued that Charles was maliciously prosecuted, because the police had the statement of Emmanuel Campbell, a deacon of the Seven Day Adventist church, who had said that he and a friend were hunting in Forest Reserve field when they came upon a marijuana field. They also told police they found a shed with tools, chemicals and dried plants.

Campbell had led police to the field which they destroyed. In a statement supporting Charles’ lawsuit, Campbell said that he heard a senior police officer telling his colleague, “This is a good time to deal with Starman for what he did to you.”

Ricad Reence also filed a witness statement that he was being searched on the road when he saw Charles riding his bicycle. “That officer and two others went up to the claimant (Charles) and pulled him off his bike. They put him in one of the parked vehicles and in the back seat.”

The State challenged the lawsuit but in his ruling, Aboud said that it was highly unlikely that a man would be walking in “broad daylight” on the road holding two bags with marijuana.

Aboud further contended in his ruling that police testified that in 2000, they found a bag with marijuana at Charles’ home, but he escaped from their grip. Just how Charles could have escaped from a party of police officers, the judge asked, was baffling.

He ordered there be judgement for Charles with damages to be assessed. The State is to also pay his legal costs.

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