Chief Justice Roxanne on Wednesday ruled that Sandra Russell, a Jamaican National was unlawfully detained and deprived of her freedom of movement when Police held her in custody for an additional five months after she had finished serving a three and a half months jail sentence for trafficking marijuana.
Justice George also declared that Russell was subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment having regard to the conditions at the East La Penitence Police Station. In the circumstances, the Jamaican woman was awarded compensatory damages in the sum of GY$2.5 million for false imprisonment.
She was further awarded damages in the sum of $600,000 for being subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment. In the end, Russell was awarded a total of $3.1 million in damages. In addition, the Attorney General was ordered to pay her $250,000 in costs.
The Chief Justice also ordered that the woman be deported to her home country at her own cost. Should she be unable to foot the bill, the Chief Justice ordered that the cost to send her back to Jamaica, be deducted from her award for damages.
In late 2019, Russell sued the State for over $100 million alleging that her constitutional rights were breached after she was kept in custody for an additional eight months after she had completed serving a three and a half months prison sentence for trafficking 70 grammes of marijuana.
She had named the Attorney General, Police Commissioner, and Chief Immigration Officer as the respondents in her claim. At the time the suit was filed by her lawyer Darren Wade, Russell, 56, resided at Pourderoyen, West Bank Demerara.
In court documents, the woman argued that her fundamental rights as guaranteed under Articles 139, 141, and 148 of the Constitution of Guyana were infringed, breached, and encroached by the Guyana Police Force when she was falsely imprisoned.
The woman had arrived in Guyana on May 13, 2013, and was arrested by Police on June 25, 2018, at Omai Landing, Essequibo River after she was busted with the marijuana. She was taken before the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts three days later where she pleaded guilty to trafficking the drug.
Russell was sentenced to eight months imprisonment for the crime, and fined $180,000. She was taken to the New Amsterdam Prison in Berbice to serve her time. However, her sentence was reduced to three and a half months and she was discharged from prison on November 10, 2018.
Instead of being taken to the immigration office to be processed for deportation to Jamaica, Russell said she was immediately taken to the East La Penitence Police Station where she was kept in custody for an additional eight months and only released on July 7, 2019, on $10, 000 bail.
According to her, the conditions at the aforesaid station were poor and she was not provided with adequate meals and supplements.
“There were no beds at the East La Penitence Police Station and I slept on a thin mattress that was very stink, on the concrete floor. There were many of us. We [the prisoners] were packed like sardines in order to fit on a mattress and the place was very humid because we had no fan nor AC,” she complained.
In light of the foregoing, she submitted that the Police had no legal right to detain her for more than 72 hours without being granted an extension from the High Court.
The woman had sought the following reliefs: damages in excess of $50M for false imprisonment; $10M per day for every day she spent in unlawful custody; damages in excess of $20M for inhuman and degrading treatment; and damages in excess of $20M for the breach of her freedom of movement