Three prison officers are in the process of filing two separate lawsuits against the Government of Barbados over COVID-19 related issues.
Industrial Relations Advisor to the Prison Officers Association of Barbados (POAB) and trade union leader Senator Caswell Franklyn disclosed today that the first action is one of defamation of character against the men whom Government officials had publicly said could not be found for testing for the virus.
On New Year’s Day, Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred Abrahams made a call during a ‘live’ television and radio broadcast for the three to come forward for testing and urged anyone who knew of their whereabouts to encourage them to do so.
The men were named during the COVID-19 update that also featured Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Attorney General Dale Marshall.
This came on the heels of several prison officers testing positive for the virus, resulting in all persons – prison officers, prisoners, and civilian staff – being tested by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
The positive tests were linked to a Boxing Day “bus crawl” and events at two bars on the west coast which have been described by health authorities as a “super spreader” for the virus.
When contacted this evening, Home Affairs Minister Abrahams said he knew nothing about any pending legal action.
“I have not been made aware that any litigation has been initiated and if it is, then we would respond accordingly,” Abrahams told Barbados TODAY.
But in a strong defence of the officers, Senator Franklyn contended that the three – who are members of the association – had already tested negative and were in quarantine at home at the time of the broadcast and that the prison administration knew this.
The Opposition senator said he heard a conversation between a senior prison official on speaker phone and one of the three officers who informed the administration that he and his two other colleagues were quarantined at home.
“They knew where the men were but yet it was said they could not find them. I heard the officer tell the senior official what the situation was with all of them…that they could not leave home and asked if the prison was going to send for them…I heard the official say ‘get here how you can…by 2 p.m. or else,’” Senator Franklyn, the president of the Unity Trade Union recalled.
“This has caused the officers pain and suffering…even their families from overseas were calling them crying and concerned about what was happening. The lawsuit is against the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Minister of Home Affairs,” he stated.
Franklyn said that regarding the second action, the Government has until tomorrow to release the three officers who were relocated from home quarantine to a south coast hotel being used for that purpose.
“A letter was being sent to the Government today giving them until tomorrow to release the officers because their two tests have come back negative and therefore there is no good reason to keep them locked up. Prison officers are supposed to be in the priority category for the quick return of results. Other people whose tests came back negative have been released but yet they continue to hold them there. These men have families and they did not even allow them to be quarantined together,” he pointed out.
“So if these officers are not released by tomorrow, the lawyers will be filing an habeas corpus action asking the court to order their release,” Senator Franklyn told Barbados TODAY.
The Home Affairs Minister also gave a robust response to this as he sought to shed light on the continued quarantine of prison officers.
“All of the prison officers going into quarantine were tested upon entering quarantine. All of those in quarantine were given a second test, the results of which we are awaiting. I am not aware that anyone has received the results of their second test while in the controlled environment of quarantine, he declared.
“As soon as the second test results become available, we will let the officers know and activate the protocol for their reintegration into the system. It is in our interest to get these results as quickly as possible so that the officers currently in quarantine can provide some relief for those who have been consistently on shift at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds since notification of the positive results at the prison,” the minister stated.
He also said he would investigate reports that prison officers in quarantine at a St Michael hotel resort were not receiving hot meals.
“As far as I understand it, the meal service is provided by the hotel, but that is not something over which I have direct control. However, I will speak to the management of the hotel and ask if better can be done,” Abrahams promised.
During the Old Year’s Night telecast, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Dale Marshall defended the decision to publicise the names of the three prison officers who he said failed to carry out an instruction to report to HMP Dodds for COVID-19 testing.
Marshall explained that the prison staff was considered a part of the disciplined forces in Barbados, and as such, there were certain protocols, rules and regulations which governed the conduct of these officers.
“A prison officer is not a clerical officer in the public service. Specific instructions were given, based on my understanding. Those instructions were not followed by the prison officers.
“They were required to report to the prison facility for testing. They were so informed, and it was not done and then they could not be located. The individuals were all located by the Royal Barbados Police Force’s efforts last night, [and] they would have been sent to the facility that was established for that purpose,” he stated.
There are currently 227 cases of the virus AT HMP Dodds – 58 staff members and 169 inmates.