By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A WOMAN from the Dominican Republic has filed a civil suit against senior government officials for wrongful detention and violation of her constitutional rights.
In a writ filed in the Supreme Court of Grand Bahama last Thursday, the plaintiff Andrea Arvelo describes the conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre as “abhorrent” and “unsanitary”.
The lawsuit, filed by Fred Smith, QC, of Callenders and Co on behalf of Santo Domingo-native Ms Arvelo, lists the attorney general, minister of foreign affairs and immigration and the director of immigration as defendants.
Ms Arvelo claims that while in custody she and other detainees were only given water at dinner and that the food provided was “repellant”.
The writ says Ms Arvelo and her American boyfriend, Timothy Shuttleworth, first travelled to The Bahamas for a holiday in July 2014 on board his boat. The plaintiff had a Bahamian travel visa that expired on October 22, 2014. She returned to the Dominican Republic on August 1, 2014 but later arranged to meet her boyfriend in The Bahamas for a second trip. She arrived in Nassau on Tuesday, October 7, with a return trip booked to the Dominican Republic for October 10, 2014.
According to the writ, on the day in question, the plaintiff landed at the Lynden Pindling International Airport and “at the immigration processing area an immigration officer told her that there was a problem with her visa”.
The Spanish speaker was able to contact Mr Shuttleworth who was waiting for her elsewhere in the airport. The officer explained to him that the problem was that the plaintiff’s visa only permitted only one entry into The Bahamas.
The supervising immigration officer on duty at that time immediately came over and demanded that Mr Shuttleworth, who lives in Florida, state his nationality and explain his status in The Bahamas, the document adds.
“She then went to her office before returning and stating that she had spoken in turn to her supervisor and that the plaintiff had been denied entry to The Bahamas.”
Two officers then took Ms Alvero to the Detention Centre.
Later that evening, Mr Shuttleworth returned to the airport and asked to speak with the supervisor. He repeatedly explained to her that he would like to buy the plaintiff a ticket so that she could return to the Dominican Republic the following morning. However, the supervisor allegedly insisted that the Wednesday flight was “too early” because there was paperwork to do.
The writ then goes on to describe the Detention Centre as having the appearance of a “medium-
security prison” with “abhorrent” conditions.
The plaintiff claimed to have been taken to a building, which housed 50 female detainees. The building, the writ said, “was so overcrowded that it was not possible to accommodate the detainees on the bunk beds situated there”.
“The foam rubber mattresses had therefore been taken off the beds and placed on the floor, and the women had to share them. The mattresses were laid end-to-end and the women slept on them not lengthwise but crosswise. Each set of two mattresses was shared by five women. The overcrowding was so bad that in order to use the toilet at night the plaintiff had to step carefully around other bodies to avoid waking people.”
“No water was provided to the plaintiff or to the other detainees except at the evening meal,” the document added.
“The plaintiff had to rely on gifts from other women of water that had been brought in for them by their families and friends. The plaintiff went almost two days without eating a meal because the food provided in the Detention Centre was repellent and completely inadequate.”
The writ also claims detainees had no privacy while showering and the sanitation facilities they had to use were “in a state of appalling filth”.
Ms Arvelo was not released from custody until October 10 and was brought to the airport by immigration officers within minutes of her scheduled flight’s departure.
According to the writ, Ms Arvelo alleges that she was falsely imprisoned and that her constitutional rights were breached.
The amount of damages sought is not detailed.