Shot housewife awarded damages
By JADA LOUTOO Thursday, February 28 2013
A LAS LOMAS housewife who was shot and injured when police entered her home in search of illegal firearms and ammunition has been awarded a total of $330,357, plus interest, in damages by a High Court judge.
Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh, however, denied to grant damages to Geeta St Clair’s husband Boodraj, who was also shot in the incident, which took place on July 12, 2004, at their home.
The St Clairs filed separate lawsuits alleging assault and battery and trespass by the police.
They were at home in bed when they said they heard gunshots at about 1.45 am and Boodraj St Clair, a contractor with a licensed firearm, heard footsteps and men saying, “Spanish, open the door, police.”
The couple and their two young sons were in their locked bedroom. They said police broke down the front door, and shot at the bedroom door.
Boodraj said he then realised his wife was shot. Still unsure the intruders were police, he fired four shots from his shotgun.
After police broke down the door, he saw a man pointing a gun at him, wearing a vest with the words “POLICE” written on it. He was told to put his gun down, and said he did so. It was after he pushed his hands through the door in compliance with the officers’ instructions to put his hands where they could see them, Boodraj said he was shot in both of his legs.
The couple were taken to hospital where they underwent surgery. His wife was shot six times — in the stomach, twice in her right leg, twice in her right hand, and once in her upper back.
She spent 17 days at the Port-of-Spain General hospital awaiting surgery and discharged herself. Instead, she went to the St Augustine Private Hospital for treatment.
In their defence, the police admitted they fired a shot at the family’s dog, but when they entered the house, despite them calling out to the St Clairs that they had a search warrant, and to come out, two officers were shot at. Boodraj was never charged with any offence.
In his ruling, Boodoosingh found that based on the versions given by the police and the St Clairs, “there was a degree of recklessness” in how the police managed the events surrounding the entry into the premises.
He said the injuries sustained by Geeta St Clair suggested a lack of sufficient care by the police in the discharge of their weapons as they sought entry into the couple’s home.
“Their entry therefore could have been done with far more restraint,” he said, as he found the police to be negligent and reckless in relation to the circumstances of Mrs St Clair being shot and injured.
He did find, however, that in Boodraj St Clair’s case, the evidence suggested the police had been acting in self-defence and with him shooting at the officers, they were entitled to take all reasonable steps to defend themselves from the attack.
Acknowledging that it was “a most unfortunate case” for both the St Clairs and the police officers involved, the judge pointed out that police officers undertake considerable risks in their daily work, and must be allowed to do their work, and be as safe as possible.
He also said he was not suggesting that police officers were not entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves in appropriate cases.
Given the injuries suffered by Boodraj, he was not made to pay the State’s costs. However, Geeta St Clair’s costs were put at $54,535.70
Ravi Rajcoomar and Alisa Khan appeared for the St Clairs while Josefina Baptiste-Mohammed, instructed by Florence Ramdin appeared for the Attorney General in the lawsuit.