Man wins $60K in lawsuit after illegal arrest by Hamilton police

A judge has awarded a Hamilton mechanic and car dealer almost $60,000 in damages for an illegal arrest and detention from 2012 that left him reeling with physical and emotional trauma.

Judge rules that an 'illegal detention led to an illegal arrest'

A local mechanic and car dealer has won a wrongful arrest lawsuit against Hamilton police. (Hamilton Police)

A judge has awarded a Hamilton mechanic and car dealer almost $60,000 in damages for an illegal arrest and detention from 2012 that left him reeling with physical and emotional trauma.

Superior Court Justice Toni Skarica ruled on Nov. 6 that Hamilton police officers illegally handcuffed and arrested Rikki Jeremiah after he refused to hand over his licence in a central Hamilton parking lot.

"I find that the detention of Mr. Jeremiah was an arbitrary detention. The police had the right to question [him]. He had the right to refuse. The police had the right to ask for identification. Mr. Jeremiah had the right to refuse to provide any documents," Skarica ruled after the five-day, judge-alone trial.

"The illegal detention led to an illegal arrest which in turn led to an illegal search of his vehicle which was not justified in these circumstances."

His determination to face the risks of a trial to obtain justice and right the wrong he experienced that night is a lesson for us all to stand up for our rights.- Bob Munroe, lawyer

The court awarded Jeremiah $40,000 in general damages alongside $9,800 in special damages for expenses and future medical treatments.

Skarica also awarded a combined $10,000 to Jeremiah's wife and their two children.

The judge did, however, reject a claim from Jeremiah's lawsuit stating he believed racism played a part in what happened. Jeremiah, who is black, came to Canada from the Caribbean in 1994 when he was 26.

Jeremiah's lawyer, Bob Munroe, told CBC News that the ruling is a testament to the "courage and perseverance" of his client.

"His determination to face the risks of a trial to obtain justice and right the wrong he experienced that night is a lesson for us all to stand up for our rights," Munroe said.

In a one-line statement, police spokesperson Jackie Penman said that Hamilton police "respects the decision of the court."

Pulled out of car, handcuffed

According to court documents, the incident itself happened in the early morning of Feb. 12, 2012.

That's when Jeremiah and his friend, Christian Lokofe, were sitting in a Chrysler Sebring and talking, parked across the street from Lokofe's residence.

A police van with five members of the ACTION team noticed the car, which didn't have a licence plate on the front. The officers — who are named in the lawsuit as Sgt. Dave Pidgeon and constables Shawn Smith, Brent Gibson, Ian Milburn, and Andrew Poustie —​ would later discover that the car had a dealer licence plate on the back.

Police allege the car was parked in a "high crime area," and said Sebrings are a vehicle that can be, and often is, stolen at an above average rate.

As police approached the car, one of the officers reported seeing Jeremiah move his hands between the front seats, and believed he was trying to conceal something. That "something" was later revealed to be a Bluetooth earpiece.

According to court documents, Const. Milburn went to the driver's side window, said the car was missing a plate and asked for Jeremiah's licence.

'I needed to know why he needed my licence'

Jeremiah said he was a car dealer and kept asking why that was necessary, the documents say. He was eventually pulled from the car, handcuffed, and forced to the ground.

"I didn't give him my licence because I needed to know why he needed my licence," Jeremiah said during the trial.

In the end, police determined no crime had been committed, and Jeremiah was released.

But the incident left physical and emotional scars, court heard.

Jeremiah testified he was traumatized, loses sleep, deals with nightmares, and fears similar incidents could now happen to him or his children.

Court heard that ultrasounds and x-rays showed he sustained supraspinatus tears in both shoulders, which may require surgery. A doctor who examined him also said he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the end, the judge found Jeremiah was essentially arrested for refusing to hand over his licence.

"Mr. Jeremiah was committing no criminal offences and there was no articulable cause to reasonably suspect that he was committing any criminal offences," Skarica ruled.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.