Inmate's death: Family suing Govt for damages despite compensation offer

SINGAPORE - The family of an inmate who had died in prison is suing the Government for general and aggravated damages despite an offer of compensation.

The mother, who is represented by lawyers M. Ravi and Eugene Thuraisingam, is also contesting the official account of events, alleging that Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah, 21, had died from "intentional assault".

The Government said on Thursdayy that the family did not take up an offer to meet the pathologist or submit any formal claims for compensation.

Despite this, the Government, which has accepted responsibility for the death, had made the offer of compensation on Sept 10 based on "established principles of liability", said the Home Affairs Ministry on Thursday.

"The Government remains open to engagement with the family but is also prepared to state its position in court if necessary," it said.

An Attorney-General's Chambers spokesman on Thursday confirmed the suit filed by the family has been served. "We are studying it carefully and we are unable to comment on it at this point in time."

The latest development comes after the Attorney-General rejected a bid from the family last month to reopen the coroner's inquiry into Dinesh's death because there were "no new matters raised" that warranted further investigations.

Dinesh was convicted for rioting and theft, and had been released conditionally after serving time. But he was later remanded for breaching a personal protection order taken by his mother against him.

According to an autopsy report seen by The Straits Times, "multiple external injuries, mostly in the form of abrasions and some bruises" were found on Dinesh. This was "consistent with the deceased having been physically restrained in a prone position upon a hard surface, possibly with handcuffs... being applied to the wrists".

The pathologist found Dinesh died of positional asphyxiation, or breathing difficulties because of the position he was in, on Sept 27, 2010.

The court had heard in July that Dinesh kicked a warden in his abdomen in an unprovoked attack. It took eight officers half an hour to restrain him. He was put in an isolation cell with his head to the side and left in a prone position.

Senior prison officer Lim Kwo Yin, 36, pleaded guilty to causing death by negligence and was fined $10,000.

Mr Ravi told The Straits Times that the plaintiffs' version was pieced from police reports and accounts given by inmates who had witnessed the altercation. "Aggravated damages are being sought in addition to the general damages because the actions by the officers were not merely a negligent act but deliberate and intentional," he said.

The plaintiffs alleged that Dinesh was provoked into pointing the middle finger and uttering an expletive at a prison officer who was deemed to be biased against him.

They claimed the officer was so angered that, together with several others, he "set upon Dinesh and assaulted him". During the altercation, the officers had also allegedly ignored him although he was drooling from the mouth and perspiring profusely.

A coroner's inquiry into the death was discontinued after Lim's guilty plea. The state coroner exercised his discretion to do so because the cause and circumstances surrounding Dinesh's death had already been placed before the court.

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