The Public Service Union says that a worker at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital who police strip-searched even as she was menstruating is only asking for an apology.
“She’s stating that she just wants an apology and perhaps so because of all of the pressure that is brought to bear on her,” union’s president, Elroy Boucher, told the media on Tuesday, adding that the incident has been referred to the PSU’s lawyers.
“Our advice to the lawyers is to take whatever action is necessary to bring justice for her,” Boucher told a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday.
“I think the Ministry of Health and the police should be sued. I think the persons who gave the permission to search her should also be sued,” the trade union leader said.
Boucher noted that the civil service orders state that if someone is acting in their capacity as a public servant and is sued, the attorney general has to answer.
“So, they themselves may not feel the brunt of it. But I’m convinced that this is a matter that should not be swept under the carpet and they should be sued.”
He said he believes the police and the ministry should be sued for violating the worker’s person and her constitutional rights.
“The lawyer will best speak to the scope of areas in which the law can be applied,” Boucher said.
The union’s grievance officer, Kathleen Nanton-Davis outlined the woman’s case, at Tuesday’s press conference.
She said that the female worker, who has been a permanent staffer at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital for two years, was at work on June 14, going about her daily chores, when a co-worker told her that the supervisor wanted to see her.
The summoned worker, on arrival at the supervisor’s office, was approached by a female police officer, who put on gloves and asked the attendant “to remove her garments,” Nanton-Davis told the media.
The union officer said the workers said she was wondering why she had to remove her clothes and the officer told her to just do as she was told.
“She took off her clothes, at which time she informed the officer that she was menstruating and the officer told her that she would have to strip right down to her underwear.”
Nanton-Davis said the worker “stripped right down to your undies and informed the officer, “‘I am on my monthly.’
“You would think that some courtesy would have been extended to her.
“She was told that she had to take off everything, which she made a mess, because it was a heavy flow,” Nanton-Davis told the media.
She said it was a “warrantless search” because the worker had nothing to hide and nothing was found.”
The worker was told to put back on her clothes, which she did, and the officer attempted to undo the bun that the worker had in her hair.
“A whole body search was done. Nothing was found on her,” Nanton-Davis said, adding that the police took the officer to the Criminal Investigation Department in Kingstown.
“She kept asking ‘Why are you taking me there? Why are you searching me? What have I done?’ It is alleged that no form of information was given to her.”
The union officer said that when the worker arrived at CID, she was denied a phone call to inform her boyfriend about the situation.
Nanton-Davis said that the police also did not escort the worker to the bathroom “to do a change”, as she requested, “so, a mess was made, then she was taken to the washroom”.
The worker remained at CID for hours without receiving any word about why she was in custody.
During this time, her boyfriend got word of what had happened and visited her at CID “and because of that visit, it prompted a search of her home. Nothing was found there,” Nanton-Davis said.
“She kept asking ‘Why am I here? What reason you are keeping me here?’ and nothing was responded to her. She stated that instead of being informed, she was told, with expletive language, to shut up and do not ask any question.”
“During all this ordeal — one has to enter into her feelings — it was humiliating, the language that was said to her, but more so, the discrimination of her affiliation, as in her family. Her sister is [a popular personality on social media] and her brother who got into some trouble also, they also were brought in — their names were brought in, too, and it got out of hand right there because she kept telling them do not bring in her family and other persons.”
Nanton-Davis said that around 4 p.m. the same day, the woman was given back her purse and phone and told she could leave.
She said that an officer finally informed the woman that money was stolen and she was one of the people that they had chosen to search and do a thorough investigation into.
The worker gave a statement to police before being released.
She reported the incident to the PSU, which wrote to Cuthbert Knight, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health.
“What our member is seeking is just an apology, an apology from supervisors or the persons who called her name and involved her in this incident,” Nanton-Davis said.
“And it has not been forthcoming. She has returned to work but as she noted, it is not the same as before. She is uncomfortable because the synergy has been lost and the family that she thought she had down there, the camaraderie, it has been lost and she is just asking for an apology, which it seems as if it is not forthcoming.”
Meanwhile, Boucher said that the union’s lawyers, Jomo Thomas and Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell are looking into the incident.
“We are of the view that they should be sued. But oftentimes when you have lower salaried workers, a pressure is brought to bear on them. So, I mentioned the fact that she was told that if you continue to talk about this, you can lose your job,” Boucher said.
“These people, including many even above those grades, are literally living paycheck to paycheck. Economic times are hard; people don’t want to lose their jobs. That’s why people go and take the [COVID-19] vaccines too. Even teachers, many of them took the vaccine because of their jobs. Survival. So survival is what she is looking at. It is not to say that they will not be sued because the matter is still open,” he said.