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Judge cautions on police brutality

Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles ruled that a police officer used “excessive force” when she shot an unarmed man who was fleeing from a police station.

According to the June 8 ruling, Jermaine Rahming alleged that he was unlawfully shot by Constable Remona Burrows-Forde on April 29, 2007.

Attorneys Keith Cargill and Audley Bonamy, who represented the defendants (the commissioner of police and the attorney general), claimed that Rahming was lawfully arrested by two citizens for attempted rape, and Burrows-Forde used justifiable force to prevent his escape from the Fort Charlotte Police Station.

But Justice Charles disagreed. She stated: “In my judgment, Officer Forde used more force than was necessary when she fired that second shot. Unless I am wrong, my understanding is that police officers are trained to shoot at the legs if someone is fleeing.”

She also pointed to unrest in the United States over police brutality and warned that the Royal Bahamas Police Force must guard itself against such criticism.

“Coincidentally, this judgment is being delivered at a time of worldwide protests and disturbances over the unfortunate death of an unarmed American man called George Floyd,” she said.

“The world is condemning police brutalities, especially of unarmed persons.

“Our police must guard itself against such criticisms by the public.

“To pull a trigger, especially on an unarmed individual, 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. Noteworthy, to date, Mr. Rahming has not been prosecuted for rape, attempted rape and any kindred offense.”

  

‘Not justified’

In her ruling, Justice Charles recounted the particulars of the case.

Around 9:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, 2007, Rahming, who worked at the British Colonial Hilton, left work to attend a Free National Movement rally at Arawak Cay.

While he was in the area of the Western Esplanade and Junkanoo beach, Rahming was approached by two men who accused him of the attempted rape of a deaf and mute woman.

The two men, Basil Sands and Alpheus Rolle, forcibly took Rahming to the Fort Charlotte Police Station.

As Rahming was in the waiting area of the police station, where he was not handcuffed or restrained, he ran out of the police station. As he was running, Burrows-Forde shot him twice – first in his back and then again in his buttocks.

Rahming spent two weeks in Princess Margaret Hospital before he was released on May 14, 2007. He was never prosecuted for the rape or attempted rape of the woman.

The defendants claimed they are not liable “and defended the action on the ground that the plaintiff was lawfully arrested and cautioned and that the force used was justified pursuant to section 103(1) of the Penal Code”.

“They say that the plaintiff was a fleeing felon and the law authorizes a police officer to even kill,” Justice Charles said.

However, Justice Charles noted, “That section is archaic and appears to conflict with one of the fundamental principles of the constitution, namely the right to life.

“In my judgment, section 103(1) is diluted or mitigated by other provisions of the code which provides for the use of reasonable force.”

While Justice Charles found that the citizens’ arrest of Rahming was lawful, she noted that Burrows-Forde should have re-arrested him if she believed there was reasonable grounds to suspect that he had committed an offense.

“The police officer did not caution or re-arrest the plaintiff,” Justice Charles said.

“She did not handcuff him as she was not equipped with a pair of handcuffs. In addition, she did not put him in a cell as, in those days, there was no cell at that police station. She left him at the front of the police station with the complainant.

“He fled when he thought it was opportune to do so. In the process, he was shot in his back and buttocks.”

She added, “While the first shot may have been justified in the circumstances, there was no need to fire the second shot.

“The plaintiff had fallen to the ground upon receiving the first shot.

“Even though she stated that the plaintiff got up from the ground and attempted to escape, she was only a foot away from him. She could have restrained him. The second shot which was fired by the police officer was not justified and amounted to the use of excessive force.”

 

Damages

On the question of whether exemplary damages should be awarded to Rahming, Justice Charles noted that Rahming was not charged with rape, attempted rape, indecent assault or any similar offenses. He was charged with assaulting a police and escape.

Essentially, exemplary damages would be money awarded to the complainant to punish a defendant’s conduct.

Justice Charles stated, “After several adjournments, the charges were subsequently withdrawn…I will make an award of $7,500 [in exemplary damages].”

Justice Charles ruled that Rahming “suffered grave injuries at the hands of Officer Forde and, as such, he should be compensated in damages”.

Justice Charles said she will assess the damages on September 17.

“Mr. Rahming is the successful party in the action,” she said.

“He is entitled to costs. Mr. Thompson is prepared to accept costs of $15,000 which I consider to be reasonable. I will make that award.”

Rahming was represented by attorneys Howard Thompson Jr. and Keevon Maynard.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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