Saturday 12 June 2021

Wrongly Arrested Man Wins Suit Against OIJ

We believe the proper response is: Oops! José Giovanny Phillips had already completed two sentences for robbery when he appeared on the OIJ “most wanted” list Jan. 13, 2011. But the publication was a mistake and has cost the country ¢2 million colones (US$4.200) in punitive damages, the court said in February.

Photos of Giovanny Phillips published in La Nacion in January 2011.| Archives
Photos of Giovanny Phillips published in La Nacion in January 2011.| Archives

Marisel Rodriguez, spokesperson for OIJ, the investigative agency, attributed the mistake to “a breakdown of internal communications.” But successful plaintiff’s lawyer Jorge Rodriguez hailed the victory as setting a precedent for compensation for an error that happens all too often in law enforcement.

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The OIJ spokesperson explained, “When the order for the arrest was published Jan. 13, 2011, the capture order was valid and it was not until Jan. 18 that the court for execution of sentences rescinded it, “but the publication had already gone out to the media.”

The OIJ press office had sent out of Jan. 13 photos of 18 men and women with instructions for citizens to notify them of their whereabouts. Phillips’ mug shot was already among the photos. The dailies Al Dia and the Extra plus TV channels 42 and 11 published the photos.

Granted, Phillips had been found guilty of two counts of robbery and sentenced to five years for each, but that was back in April, 2000. When Phillips saw himself featured among lawbreakers sought by OIJ, he presented himself to the nearest OIJ office to ask, “What’s going on?”.

Far from catching their error, OIJ then demanded that he present a document to prove he had already served his debt to society, although they did not immediately arrest him. On Jan. 17, the courts admitted that Phillips had indeed completed his sentences on Dec. 30, 2010.

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After Judge Amy Miranda heard the law suit, she summarized the error this way: “Phillips for a period of four days remained on the most wanted list … affecting him with humiliation and disparagement … through an obvious and admitted error by OIJ.”

Although Phillips demanded 50 million colones in damages, Judge Miranda felt this was a bit much and reduced the penalty to 2 million, since the error had not cost Phillips his employment and so could show no direct loss of money.

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Q Costa Rica
Reports by QCR staff

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