Lawsuit alleges inhumane detention at police station

What is believed to be the first lawsuit alleging inhumane prisoner conditions in a local police station was filed earlier this month, six months after the facility was shut down by the government.

The writ of summons filed Sept. 1 by Alanzo Spence against the Cayman Islands government (via its legal representative, the attorney general), claims that Mr. Spence was wrongfully arrested three years ago at his home by police officers investigating an attempted murder.

Following the arrest, the writ alleges that Mr. Spence was detained for four days without charge on suspicion of attempted murder and unlicensed firearms possession.

A section of the lawsuit seeks exemplary damages for the detainment: “The police station in which [Mr. Spence] was detained was inhumane and unfit for purpose. His detention therein cause[d] further humiliation, distress and suffering.”

The balance of the writ deals with Mr. Spence’s arrest on Sept. 16, 2013, when he was held at gunpoint, placed in handcuffs and taken into the street “in the presence of family and neighbors.” He was then informed that he had been arrested for attempted murder and illegal firearms possession and was taken to the George Town Police Station, court records state.

The writ alleges the arrest was unlawful because Mr. Spence had not committed any offense and that police officers “did not actually suspect that [Mr. Spence] had committed any offense.”

After four days of detention, Mr. Spence was released on police bail, put under curfew with an electronic monitor “ankle tag” and his passport was taken.

About three months later, on Dec. 15, 2013, Mr. Spence was informed by police that no further action would be taken against him in relation to the investigation.

“The nature of the allegation was extremely serious,” the writ states. “[Mr. Spence’s] reputation has been tarnished and he fears it may never be restored.”

In addition to damages for the detainment, the lawsuit seeks aggravated damages and payment of legal fees associated with the arrest.

The jails at the George Town station were described in a United Kingdom inspector’s report from 2013 as “barely fit for human habitation,” but they were still being used as of early March 2016 to hold people who were arrested, prior to their release or detention in Northward prison.

Since then, modular facilities in the Fairbanks area of George Town have been used to house all prisoners. The new modular cells, which cost government US$2.1 million and can house up to 24 inmates, were shipped to Cayman and moved into place near Fairbanks Prison in mid-April 2014.

Officials with the government Ministry of Home Affairs said at the time that they expected the units to be opened within six weeks – the beginning of June 2014 – but that did not happen. The delay was largely due to stalled planning inspections and outfitting of the facilities, ministry officials said.

Human rights concerns regarding the detention of prisoners at Northward Prison were also raised in the courts in late July, but a Grand Court judge dismissed those, stating that the matter should be dealt with through a judicial review process.