(Trinidad Guardian) One of the seven Sea View Drive, Gulf View residents whose homes were searched as part of a controversial police operation last Friday, has threatened to sue the State over the incident.
The threat was made in a pre-action protocol letter served on Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and the Office of the Attorney General yesterday afternoon, by lawyers representing retired oil worker Ravi Dinanath and his wife Lelawatee.
In the 14-page document, the couple’s lawyer Stefan Ramkissoon described the actions of approximately 17 unnamed officers as oppressive, arbitrary and unconstitutional as he sought to outline what transpired on May 3.
According to Ramkissoon, around 9.30 am Lelawatee was home alone when officers, most of whom were masked and wearing camouflage uniforms, entered through the front gate and surrounded the house. He claimed she agreed to let the officers inside after they threatened to destroy the door using a sledgehammer.
While the house was being ransacked by the officers, Dinanath arrived from his morning walk. He reportedly asked the officers if they had a warrant for the search and was told it was “none of his business” and that he could be arrested for obstructing them in the execution of their duties.
During the exchange, Lelawatee reportedly suffered an asthma attack but the officers refused to assist in taking her to hospital.
“You call them, we don’t have time for that,” they are alleged to have said.
The officers reportedly took video recordings of the couple’s property before they left.
In the letter, Ramkissoon sought to outline his understanding of the legal circumstances under which police can enter into a property without a warrant.
“Police officers can only enter an accused’s private residence without a warrant where it is in the pursuance of their common-law duty to protect life and safety; where a crime is or is reasonably suspected of being committed; illegal dissipation of evidence of a crime (and not necessarily in instances where there is evidence of a crime being stores); in cases of hot pursuit (where the privacy interest argument may give way to the interest of society ensuring police protection),” Ramkissoon stated.
He said none of the conditions highlighted were present in the Dinanaths’ case.
“This unlawful search, therefore, brings into question issues of misfeasance and/or misbehaviour in public office wherein police officers may have exercised the power entrusted to them, by virtue of the office which they hold, for unlawful purposes,” he said.
In the letter, Ramkissoon gave the State 14 days in which to respond to the letter before his clients file their case over breaches of their constitutional rights. Ramkissoon suggested that his clients would be willing to forgo the lawsuit if they receive a “reasonable offer” of compensation and a public apology from the officers as well as Griffith.
The couple is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally and Kiel Taklalsingh.
In total, seven homes were searched during the operation, in which police were alleged to have been searching for a suspicious package which was not recovered. One person was arrested and subsequently released but residents claimed that he was a street dweller.
Following the operation, Griffith issued a release assuring the public that it was done for a specific purpose and not based on race, politics or religion.
In a press release issued on Thursday, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) stated that its preliminary investigations showed there was no evidence of misconduct by the officers.