Two years ago, on a Sunday morning in February, 21-year-old Nichelle Anna-Kay Thomas was found dead, in a closet, her throat slashed. Hanging from a tree in the yard was the body of 39-year-old Devon Roy Campbell — formerly her boyfriend, then her abuser and finally, her killer.
This is a tragedy that could — and should — have been prevented.
During the 21 months when Ms. Thomas was living in this country with Mr. Campbell, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service received five reports of incidents involving the couple, who were Jamaican nationals.
That’s five failed opportunities to save Ms. Thomas’s life.
In October 2012, Mr. Campbell admitted to police that he had physically assaulted Ms. Thomas. In September 2013, Ms. Thomas told police that Mr. Campbell had taken her passport, their baby and their baby’s passport. In January 2014, the month before she was killed, Ms. Thomas told police that Mr. Campbell had threatened her with a screwdriver.
No charges were ever levied. No arrests were ever made. No forms were ever filed with the police Central Referral Unit.
In support of police, Denise Gower of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre said domestic violence presents officers with a “terribly tough job” because victims often say they do not want to press charges against their abusers.
That, reportedly, is what occurred with Ms. Thomas.
To an extent, we agree with Ms. Gower. The police do deserve our support, and domestic violence is a difficult and emotional issue. It is good that police have, according to Ms. Gower, “implemented a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to domestic violence.” But that change in policy comes too late for Ms. Thomas.
We admire and commend the Crisis Centre for its efforts. This organization does fulfill a role in providing women and children a safe haven from their abusers. However, the Crisis Centre can only offer to help. If a person refuses that help, as Ms. Thomas did, the Crisis Centre’s remit ends right there.
That is why domestic violence is not an issue to be resolved primarily by social services or benevolent charities. The moment that anyone — boyfriend, spouse, acquaintance or stranger — commits a physical assault against anyone else, it clearly becomes a matter for police and, more broadly, the criminal justice system.
The surest way to protect victims of crime is not through compassion and condolence, but through arrests and prosecution.
That being said, police officers are only human. We communicate regularly with RCIPS, from uniformed cops on the beat, all the way up to the police commissioner. We can report with accuracy that police are not immune to the reverberations of judgments that may appear to establish the priorities of our judiciary.
Consider, for example, the case of local radio talk show host Austin Harris, who admitted to assaulting a woman in public (specifically at the victim’s leaving-the-island party) in March 2014. Following a predictable pattern, Mr. Harris’s victim, who happened to be an upstanding member of the community and well-known public servant, said she didn’t want to pursue charges against him. More than a year later, after the matter finally went to court in May 2015, Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez discharged Mr. Harris (who had pleaded guilty) with “no conviction recorded.”
That, incidentally, was the same judgment (“no conviction recorded”) meted out to fellow radio talk show host Kenneth Bryan, who was found guilty last month — not of raising his fist to a woman — but for raising his voice to a male police officer.
Those are just a few stories that have been published in the pages of the Compass. Many other credible ones — some involving prominent members of society, including elected officials, past and present — reach the ears of our newsroom but can never be substantiated enough to appear in print. We pledge to re-emphasize our commitment to this topic and to redouble our efforts to verify and then bring these sorts of sordid tales into the public light, no matter the identity or position of the abusers. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will not be the policy of this newspaper.
Every year, Grand Cayman’s Business and Professional Women’s Club hosts a “Silent Witness March” to show solidarity for victims of domestic violence and bullying. While we believe their hearts are in the right place, quite frankly our country has more than its fair share of “silent witnesses.”
What Cayman needs is witnesses who testify, police who arrest and juries or judges who convict.