By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
A SUPREME Court judge has said police must guard against criticism of excessive force but warned that pulling a trigger on an unarmed person “should be a measure of last resort”.
Justice Indra Charles’ remarks came as she ordered the government to pay $22,500 in damages after she found a police officer used excessive force when she shot a man in his buttocks 13 years ago.
That bill will likely increase, however, because Justice Charles will assess damages for the man’s injuries in September. In the postscript of her ruling, Justice Charles also reflected on the worldwide protests following the recent police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“The world is condemning police brutalities especially of unarmed persons,” she wrote in the ruling released this week. “Our police must guard itself against such criticisms by the public. To pull a trigger especially on unarmed individuals must be a measure of last resort. A cardinal principle of our Constitution is that a man is presumed to be innocent until and unless a jury finds him otherwise. The fact that a citizen’s arrest was made does not automatically prove guilt.”
Jermaine Rahming, 44, sought damages for personal injuries and exemplary damages after he was shot by Police Constable 2024 Ramona Burrows-Forde on April 29, 2007. Justice Charles has awarded him $7,500 in punitive damages and legal costs of $15,000 must be paid to him.
Government lawyers argued that he was lawfully arrested by two people for attempted rape and was subsequently shot while trying to flee police custody. They said he was a fleeing felon and justifiable force was used to prevent his escape.
According to Justice Charles’ ruling, Mr Rahming was heading to a FNM rally at Arawak Cay when two civilians approached him and accused him of attempting to rape a deaf and mute woman.
“Mr Rahming was physically abused by the two civilians, neither of whom actually witnessed Mr Rahming in the act,” she wrote. “They forcibly dragged him to the nearby Fort Charlotte Police Station. (The deaf woman) followed them to the police station. While at the police station, the civilians informed Officer Forde that (the deaf woman) communicated to them that Mr Rahming attempted to rape her. The men then left.
“Mr Rahming was livid that he was being alleged of attempting to rape (the woman). After all, he considered himself a law-abiding citizen. He has never had any brush with the law. So, he protested. He may have used expletives. “He even gave Officer Forde a fictitious name as she was writing down information pertaining to his identity. Officer Forde was the only officer on duty at the police station. Mr Rahming and (the deaf woman) were in the waiting area at the front of the police station. Mr Rahming was not cautioned. He was not under arrest. He was not handcuffed or placed in a cell. In fact, Officer Forde was not equipped with a pair of handcuffs and, in those days, the police station had no cell.
“At some point in the investigation, Officer Forde asked (the woman) for an explanation of what occurred. She uttered sounds and performed sign language to Officer Forde. She pointed to Mr Rahming. He became fearful of going to Fox Hill prison and as soon as Officer Forde turned around to answer the phone, he immediately ran out of the police station headed in a westerly direction. Officer Forde shot him twice in the lower back and buttocks. He fell to the ground. Ambulance services arrived and transported him to the Princess Margaret Hospital where he received medical treatment for the gunshot wounds. He was eventually released from hospital on 14 May 2007.”
Mr Rahming was never charged with rape, attempted rape or any similar offenses. Charges accusing him of assaulting a police officer and trying to escape contrary to the Penal Code were eventually withdrawn by the prosecutor after several hearing adjournments.
Justice Charles said under cross-examination, Mr Rahming struck her as a credible and honest witness “although, at times, he became overwhelmed with emotions.”
Three witnesses for the defendants testified, including Officer Forde. Justice Charles said she found her inconsistent and “incapable of belief,” adding that she “equivocated quite a bit.”
Officer Forde had testified that when Mr Rahming tried to flee, he tripped on the deaf woman who was sitting in a chair and then he pushed her — Officer Forde — in the chest when she approached them. She said the push caused her to stumble against the wall and hit her head and right shoulder. She said when she tried to lock the station door, Mr Rahming struck her on her mouth and nose. She said Mr Rahming tried to take a firearm out her pocket. She said she cautioned him to stop while removing her firearm. She said when he did not stop she fired a shot at him, causing him to fall in the doorway. She said when she approached him, he got up and tried to run again, prompting her to fire a second shot.
Officer Forde testified that she received significant injuries but did not see a doctor until the following Monday and did not produce documentary evidence of that visit.
Justice Charles wrote: “It is always a difficult task for a judge to determine who is telling the truth when the evidence is diametrically opposite. That being said and having the advantage of seeing, hearing and observing the witnesses’ demeanor, on a balance of probabilities, I preferred Mr Rahming’s evidence to that of Office Forde. I found her evidence to be inconsistent and incapable of belief. One would have expected a police officer to produce documentary evidence, for example, the incomplete detention record or indeed, her own medical report to substantiate her assertion that she received medical attention for the injuries which she allegedly sustained at the hands of Mr Rahming. But, this was not so. She appeared nonchalant.”