…State, families agree to $77M settlement
By Svetlana Marshal
APPROXIMATELY five months after the families of the three Linden Martyrs sued the state, a $77M settlement has been reached.
The Linden Martyrs – Ron Somerset, Shemroy Bouyea and Allan Lewis – were killed on July 18, 2012 during a protest in Linden over a proposal by the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government to hike electricity rates there. The shooting occurred at the Wismar-Mackenzie Bridge during a standoff with protestors and ranks from the Joint Services where residents were, at the time, protesting the decision made by the former administration to increase the electricity tariff from $5 per kilowatt to $65.
Approximately eight (8) years after the tragic event, their families, in February, 2020, filed a $450M lawsuit against the state on the grounds that the police were reckless and engaged in the unnecessary use of force that resulted in the deaths of their loved ones. The lawsuit was filed by Attorney-at-Law Darren Wade before High Court Judge Franklin Holder, on behalf of the claimants: Rodwell Lewis, the son of Allan Lewis; Jacqueline Bouyea, the mother of Shemroy Bouyea; and Margaret Somerset, the mother of Ron Somerset. In the application, it was stated that the three men’s right to life and fundamental right to liberty were breached, encroached upon and infringed by the state. Attorney General Basil Williams was named respondent in the case.
On Saturday (July 18) even as the people of Linden honoured the lives of Somerset, Lewis and Bouyea, Wade disclosed that a settlement was reached on or about June 25, 2020. Based on the settlement with the state, the estate of Somerset will receive $27M, while the estates of Lewis and Bouyea will receive $25M each. A Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the shooting found the Guyana Police Force culpable in the deaths of the three protestors.
Paragraph 261 of the Linden Commission of Inquiry Report reads: “We believe that the police were responsible for the shooting to death of the three deceased, as well as [for] the injuries caused to several other persons at Linden on July 18, 2012, as there is no evidence that anyone else had a firearm which was discharged.”
The commission, in February 2013, had recommended $3M each for the families of 24-year-old Bouyea and 46-year-old Lewis and $1M for the relatives of 18-year-old Somerset. In justifying its recommendation made with respect to Somerset, the commission said there was no evidence to suggest that the teen, who was attending the Linden Technical Institute, worked and offered financial support to his mother.
“His mother, Margaret, who was a vendor in the interior but now unemployed and lives in Suriname, testified that Ron worked at an electronic shop at Linden which is owned by her son-in-law and assisted in supporting her and her two grandchildren. She was a most unimpressive witness and it is left to wonder whether Ron in fact assisted to support the family, hearing in mind that she received a monthly support of US$250 from two of her children who live overseas. We do not believe that Ron was employed at the time of his death,” the commission wrote.
Wade drew attention to the fact that the commission, in its CoI report, indicated that the initial payments were not based on a legal obligation, but were ex-gratia (as a favour rather from legal obligation).
Senior Counsel Stanley Moore, who represented the state, told the Guyana Chronicle that the settlement was reached on the basis of Wade’s submissions. “He, I believe, presented their claims very well and looked after their interest very well,” Senior Counsel Moore posited.
He noted that the awards will be made directly to the estates of the trio. “Justice Holder examined the settlement that had been reached by the parties; he examined the settlement very carefully, and satisfied himself that it was fair to all parties concerned and he was particularly careful to ensure that the Order made by him was that the damages awarded would go to the estates of these three deceased persons and not in the hands of any single person,” Senior Counsel Moore told the Guyana Chronicle.