PHILIPSBURG–The Court of First Instance on Tuesday awarded compensation to a 28-year-old inmate of the Pointe Blanche prison who was stabbed and injured by a fellow inmate on February 14, 2017. As a result of the attack he sustained severe and permanent injury. As the Court held Country St. Maarten responsible for prison security, the judge ordered the government to pay the inmate an advance of NAf. 100,000 until the exact amount of damages have been established.
The detainee, who was injured and paralysed at the time, was awarded NAf. 6,120 in compensation for the fact that he was handcuffed to his hospital bed during treatment. The handcuffs, which were used for five weeks, caused injuries and unnecessary pain, the Court stated
The inmate was stabbed while sitting out a three-year prison sentence for attacking a man with a machete. He also had been convicted of previous crimes. In December 2012, he was sentenced to 30 months, 12 of which were suspended, for attempted extortion and theft. On January 14, 2015, he received nine months, six of which were suspended, and 120 hours of community service, for threatening and attempted theft.
Regarding the prison stabbing the victim had filed charges against his assailant, whom he accused of mistreatment and attempted murder. According to him, he was unexpectedly attacked from behind and without any reason, with a makeshift knife made out of a piece of rebar.
The victim had to be flown out to the Dominican Republic for specialist treatment while he was kept under guard of a St. Maarten police officer.
In September 2018, the inmate’s curator filed a case against Country St. Maarten in which he claimed that government had acted illegitimately against the inmate as it had failed to guarantee his safety. Government should be held responsible for the damage and should be ordered to pay an advance of NAf. 250,000, the curator claimed in his petition to the Court.
In a report of April 2017, the Law Enforcement Council stated that the overall internal security within the prison left much to be desired. “This applies both to the prevention and management of calamities and to the areas of aggression management and drug discouragement,” the Council wrote in its report.
“The combination of lack of vision and policy, non-working equipment, unprepared and shortage of working and supervisory staff, the presence of (home-made) (fire)weapons and non-structural deployment of the means of cell inspections, for example, creates a tense and unsustainable situation inside the prison and has a direct influence on the safety of everyone inside the prison walls.”
The Council said it feared serious incidents “with irreversible consequences”, stressed that this situation could no longer continue and called on those responsible to join forces in improving prison security and bringing it to an acceptable level “in the shortest possible term.”
Some serious violent incidents took place behind the prison walls. In 2014 a detainee was stabbed and seriously injured. On August 2016 another inmate was shot dead by a fellow inmate.
From a prison report of March 20, 2016, it emerged that the inmate who was the subject of this case had attacked another detainee together with two other persons. Whereas two of the attackers had used their bare hands, he had used “a long black piece of metal” to “smash” the man’s head in, it was stated in the report.
Two weeks before the February 2017 stabbing incident numerous cellular phones, self-made weapons, drugs and a firearm were found during a search in prison by the police in cooperation with the Dutch Marines.
According to the claimant, the situation in prison had not improved, despite numerous reports and court cases on the matter. In response to country St. Maarten’s defence, attorney Brenda Brooks stated that the government had failed her client’s fundamental right to life in failing to protect his physical integrity.
Represented by lawyer Aernout Kraaijeveld, government stated that under St. Maarten’s prison regime it was difficult to separate inmates. Also, there were no indications that the inmate was in danger and that a fellow inmate wanted to kill him.
The government acknowledged that the situation in prison was very poor, but claimed that this stabbing incident could have happened in every prison.
According to the Court, keeping and maintaining a prison is a basic government obligation. Sufficient funds, staff and means should be made available to build and maintain a safe prison. It is obvious that St. Maarten has failed to achieve this, the judge said in the verdict.
There is a pattern of violence in the prison that continues to make victims, the judge said. “The detainees in the Pointe Blanche prison live under dangerous circumstances and country St. Maarten knows this for many years but fails to make a change. With that, it has created a situation that amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment. As a result, country St. Maarten falls short of its duty of care towards detainees who are placed in prison after a court decision. That is unlawful,” the judge concluded.
The Court ruled that the government had committed an unlawful act and that it is liable for the damage caused by the stabbing. The case was referred to a separate procedure to establish the exact amount for compensation.