The impartiality of a defence witness in the trial of former government minister Frank McField was called into question last Thursday, after he admitted telling a colleague that he had ‘saved Dr. Frank’, after giving evidence the previous day.
The witness was Radio Cayman DJ Jarrod ‘JJ’ Coe. He had been at the road block on Shamrock Rd in the early hours of 15 September, 2006, where McField was arrested on counts of assaulting police, threatening violence, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing police.
Mr. Coe – the defence’s only witness apart from McField – had appeared on the witness stand the previous day and on Thursday morning was cross-examined by Crown Counsel Nicola Moore.
‘Do you remember saying to Radio Cayman’s News Director Jay Ehrhart last night that you had saved Dr. Frank?’ Ms Moore asked the witness.
Mr. Coe accepted he had said something to that effect, and agreed it was a biased comment, but emphasised that he had not discussed that day’s evidence with anyone, as instructed by Magistrate Grace Donalds.
He also told the court that he wrote letters to the Governor, the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police, the 15 members of the Legislative Assembly and the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee after McField’s arrest.
‘You have a pretty strong view about saving Mr. McField, don’t you?’ asked Ms Moore. Mr. Coe explained the letters were partly about how McField had been treated by police and partly about the road being blocked that night.
Earlier, Mr. Coe had given testimony that differed with that offered by Crown witnesses, and, at times, from what McField had told the court.
Previous Crown witnesses have described Coe as being one of two ‘ringleaders’ at the roadblock, who, they claimed, had abused police and later egged McField on as he confronted police.
Mr. Coe denied abusing police, although said the crowd had become very agitated prior to McField’s arrival sometime around 4am.
Contradicting Crown witnesses’ claims, he said McField was arrested after saying to a group of people about 15 to 20 yards from the roadblock, ‘why don’t you open the [expletive] road up?’
McField says he was arrested after saying ‘why don’t they open the [expletive] road,’ following a warning from PC Douglas Melville that the next person to curse would be arrested for disorderly conduct.
Crown witnesses said McField responded to the warning by saying to the officer ‘[expletive] you and your disorderly, you stupid [expletive].’
The police then went to arrest McField, Mr. Coe said, and marched him to the police car where they pushed him very hard into the hood of the car to handcuff him – a claim no other witness, including McField, has made to the court.
Mr. Coe said one of the officers then kicked McField’s feet out and he fell to the ground. He said one of the officers then crushed his glasses. ‘One of them had his knee on Dr. Frank’s neck, pushing his face into the pavement,’ he said.
‘I remember he called them a bunch of racist pigs and [said] he couldn’t believe what they were doing to him.’
Mr. Coe was asked about allegations McField kicked one of the officers. He said the defendant had kicked his leg forward, grazing the officer’s leg, but it was not in a violent manner. Asked in cross-examination what he meant by the statement, Mr. Coe said McField had kicked the officer ‘like when you shrug something off.’
Mr. Coe also denied Crown witnesses’ claims that McField had threatened to kill the officers as they arrested him, although, he conceded, McField ‘did use a lot of foul language.’
Summing up the Crown’s case, Nicola Moore pointed out that if McField and Mr. Coe were telling the truth about what McField had said following the officer’s warning, it meant four policemen and two citizens that appeared for the Crown had purged themselves.
Referring to Mr. Coe’s evidence, she said any witness that thinks his role in giving evidence is to save a defendant cannot be considered impartial. A witness should give evidence to assist the court, and not a particular party, she said.
She contrasted this with Crown witnesses, who, she said, had been inconsistent on minor points, but had been consistent on the fundamental parts of the Crown’s case.
McField and Mr. Coe, she said, had at times used identical words in their evidence – ‘not the mark of independent witnesses’ – adding it looked like the two had gotten their heads together.
Closing the defence’s case, McField’s attorney, Clyde Allen, maintained his client had said, amongst a group of people, ‘Why don’t they open the [expletive] road.’ This, he said, could not be legitimate grounds for the arrest, pointing to the fact that the ‘f-word’, for better or worse, now peppers common language. Permitting police to arrest someone in such circumstances could constitute an infringement on fundamental freedoms, he continued.
‘The question becomes, can the police, when they are manning a barricade, when there must be freedom of expression, tell the public behind the barricades to stop using curse words? That’s the question.’
He said everything that flowed from the arrest should be seen in the context of the arrest, which, he reiterated, had been described by Mr. Coe as brutal.
‘If the court accepts he simply asked the question ‘why don’t they open the [expletive] road’, I ask … that the court find that the degree of public disorder that is being charged had not been met.
‘I submit that’s what triggers the arrest … everything else flows from there.’
Magistrate Donalds instructed McField to return Tuesday for a verdict.