No criminal conviction for talk show host
Radio talk show host Austin Harris escaped without a criminal conviction on Thursday after admitting to assaulting a woman at a party.
Harris said he was “severely intoxicated” at the time and could not remember anything about the incident.
He had previously entered not guilty pleas to charges of common assault and damage to property but reversed his plea on the morning of a planned trial at Summary Court.
Witnesses said Harris, the host of Rooster FM’s “Crosstalk” radio show, grabbed the woman by the throat and was pulled away by television weatherman Kevin Watler during the incident at a leaving-the-island party for the victim in March 2014.
Harris, who called former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Linford Pierson as a character witness, said he had given up alcohol and had sought counseling for anger management since the incident.
“I know that, ‘I don’t remember’, or ‘I was drunk’ are not reasonable excuses or defense, but it is the only defense I have. While I may not remember the events, I accept full responsibility for myself and my actions,” he said in a prepared statement read to the court.
“Many people have felt my silence implies a lack of remorse. Nothing could be further from the truth. I lie awake at night thinking about the pain, suffering and embarrassment I have caused so many people.”
He added that he has given up drinking, saying, “It has been 14 months since my lips last touched alcohol.”
Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez said Harris, 44, had previous good character and had taken positive, voluntary steps to address the issues that led to the offense.
“Everyone deserves a chance. I admonish you and discharge you with no conviction recorded,” she said.
She told him, “To whom much is given, much is expected. You are a public figure and you have suffered much already in the court of public opinion and, no doubt, after today that will continue.”
Prosecutor Greg Walcolm said the victim, who originally gave a statement to police, had indicated she did not want to pursue charges against Harris, citing the steps he had taken to deal with anger and alcohol-related issues.
He said the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided to proceed with the prosecution based on witness testimony. He said Harris was at a party with several others present when he had “reacted” to the woman by touching her cheek and grabbing her by the throat.
One of the witnesses, Mr. Watler, pulled Harris away. In his efforts to leave the party, the talk show host damaged a window, the prosecutor said.
Mr. Watler, who asked to give a statement to the court, said Harris was someone he had looked up to for many years and who did good work in the community.
He said it was a “traumatic experience” to have to pull him away from the woman, adding, “It was heartbreaking to see someone you look up to behave in that way.” He said Harris had not apologized since the incident. Harris’s attorney, Lloyd Samson, said his client had been instructed not to contact witnesses.
He said Harris was a productive member of the community who helped charitable organizations, including Meals on Wheels.