By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
A man who was unlawfully detained for more than six years was forced to sleep in a car and go hungry as he fought a legal case that resulted in him being awarded $641,000.
Douglas Ngumi’s current lifestyle is a far cry from that of a man who has just won thousands of dollars for unlawful detention, the largest damages ever ordered in a Supreme Court case of its kind.
The Kenyan national said he lives in a Mitsubishi L300 borrowed from a friend, often goes hungry, some days having nothing to eat, and bathes outside.
His most prized possession, he said, is a cell phone given to him by his lawyers – though he repeatedly loses such devices because he said he can’t properly secure them.
“From 2017, I’ve never slept in a bed or locked a door,” he said yesterday in his first interview since the verdict announcing his record award.
“I sleep with one eye open. I bathe outside and I look for a secure spot to do a number two. I don’t like to go in people house so that if anything goes missing, you can’t be blamed.”
Justice Indra Charles awarded Mr Ngumi $641,950 in damages last month after a trial in which it was revealed that the 49-year-old endured cruel and inhumane treatment at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre during an unlawful six-and-a-half-year imprisonment that began in 2011 and ended in 2017.
Mr Ngumi said he learned about his victory when a friend told him on November 30 that he was on the front page of The Tribune.
“It was a surprise to see it on the front page and then have people come and tell you you’re on the front page, so then I went and got the paper to read it myself,” he said. “I didn’t have money to buy the paper, so someone actually gave it to me for free.”
Mr Ngumi has a complicated view of Justice Charles’ ruling: he is happy he won, but is dissatisfied with the figure he has been awarded.
“I was emotional and I was glad about it to know that that could have happened,” he said, “but it’s not satisfactory because the request was $11m, so we was thinking even if it’s not $11m and even if it’s not half-way to that, it would come at least a quarter of what we asked for.”
Attorney Fred Smith has told Eyewitness News that he will appeal Justice Charles’ ruling, saying the award was “grossly inadequate” and creates a “terrible perception of social inequality”.
If the award remains at $641k, Mr Ngumi said he dreams of buying a property on which to build a house and starting a business.
“I would like to get a cheap but nice property in a nice area and a business,” he said. “I am a mechanic by trade so anything looking at that, like say, new and used car parts, I would focus on that for my business.”
He said if he takes care of his immigration issues in the Bahamas, he wants to travel to Kenya to visit his parents, his sister and his 22-year-old daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was a baby.
“She doesn’t know me,” he said of his child. “I came here for the first time in 1997. She don’t live close to my family in Kenya so we’re trying to establish contact with her.
“I want to get myself established first before I travel. I would like to get my documents to be on the safe side. I don’t have nothing. The lawyers are trying to get one for me now.”
Mr Ngumi testified in the Supreme Court that his identification documents were lost at the detention facility.
“I’m in the process of trying to get legal documents,” he said. “I need documents from my country first though, a birth certificate and national ID from my country.”
For now, Mr Ngumi said he leads a charmless, fun-free life.
“I don’t have fun here,” he said. “I don’t have the funds to have fun. Fun for me is watching a soccer game or going somewhere where I can watch a movie on a TV or something. I have no TV, no computer, I only have a phone.”
After leaving the Detention Centre in 2017, Mr Ngumi said he was homeless on Junkanoo Beach, “just walking around waiting for the day to go because I didn’t have nothing.”
Eventually, he said he lived in an unfinished building of a friend but left there in February this year and has been living in a car ever since.
“Sometimes I get so emotional and I don’t know why,” he said. “I saw my lawyers and they told me I need to go for counselling. That’s what they trying to do, get me to go for counselling so they will see if I could be all right.”
During his trial, Mr Ngumi recalled three occasions when teargas was used on detainees. He damned the conditions of the facility, saying one dorm held 500 people when it had a capacity for only 50. He said when he left the centre, he was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis and was eventually detained for eight months at Princess Margaret Hospital.
He cried while testifying in detail about one violent episode in particular in which he was stripped naked, tied, handcuffed under a table and beaten with a PVC pipe. His testimony was accepted as definitive by the judge because government lawyers did not call witnesses or produce evidence in the trial.
Reacting to the ruling, Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson has said the Bahamas “is a country of laws,” while Immigration Director Clarence Russell has said his department intends to “make sure people are safe, treated as humanely as possible and that due course is taken”.
On immigration authorities, Mr Ngumi said: “How they operate, somebody need to look very closely into what has been going on into government institutions. A lot of things happen through hidden doors. Officers don’t put officers in shackles so you never know what really goes on unless someone talks about it.”
For his part, Mr Smith blasted the government for not allowing people like Mr Ngumi to seek gainful employment.
“I begged the government to give people like Mr Ngumi a general work permit so that they can at least provide for themselves while their situations and circumstances are being dealt with,” he said yesterday. “It is inhumane and degrading to prevent a person from putting food in his mouth. And it is not just Ngumi, it is all the cases that I am doing and it is absolutely dehumanising.”