Tuesday, July 12 – It has already been a long day in Summary Court by the time Kurtney Johnson, an incorrigible drug addict who has just been sentenced to two years in prison for a spree of cocaine-fueled burglaries, rises to give a brief heartfelt speech of thanks.
After three years in and out of the drug court, including literally hundreds of counseling sessions, Johnson has exhausted his second chances and is heading back to Northward Prison.
Instead of venting frustration at the sentence, he gives a vote of thanks to his lawyer, to the probation officers, to the magistrate and to the drug counselors who have tried to help him. He even thanks the prosecutor.
“I appreciate every moment of time you have put into helping me. I hope to make this my last time before you, sir,” he tells Magistrate Valdis Foldats.
It’s an uplifting end that adds a misleading sense of closure to what has been a long, at times frustrating, but fairly typical day in Cayman Islands Summary Court.
Through the course of the day, the pile of mauve manila folders spread out in seven elastic band-bound bundles in front of prosecutor Neil Kumar has steadily diminished.
He places Johnson’s 12 files with the rest in two large suitcases at his feet.
He can close those files now, but the other 73 cases will all have to be logged to come back another day.
A handful have progressed to the next stage in the process.
Several defendants, including a prisoner who refused to leave his cell, did not show. Some reports were not ready, in some cases witnesses were being rounded up, in others the lawyers could not agree on what had already been agreed. The wheels of justice are turning – slowly.
Earlier in the morning, the court bustled with activity as defendants jostled with lawyers, court officials and probation officers for space in the tiny waiting room.
Some arrive dressed for court in shirt and tie, others in work clothes, some straight from the street in low-slung jeans, trainers and gold chains, tattoos creeping around the corner of T-shirts.
The docket spreads the gamut of criminal activity, from shoplifting a few cartons of Tropical Rhythms fruit juice to possession of child pornography.
The cases, all at various stages in the often lengthy court process, range from offenses committed in 2013 to crimes from the previous weekend.
Among the first up is Dart Realty, called to court over an apparent failure to comply with an enforcement notice over scrap vehicles piled up at one of its properties. Dart – one of Cayman’s largest employers – is blaming its tenant, auto parts operator Harold Spence, who does not appear to have shown up for court.
The prosecution wants a weeklong adjournment. Dart’s lawyer Linda DaCosta objects, saying the company had been informed the charges were going to be withdrawn.
She seems frustrated.
“An adjournment is not going to take this matter any further. Our client has already spent thousands of dollars on legal fees, and for me to come to the court once more is just unnecessary, Your Honor,” she says.
The magistrate’s hands are tied, and he orders the adjournment, the first of many for the morning.
Lionel Frederick is up for a common assault. His lawyer is trying to round up witnesses and asks the court’s indulgence for two more weeks. The magistrate concurs: “I don’t want you to come back for another adjournment. Let’s say three.”
Troy Chamberlyn is charged with threats to kill, common assault, causing harassment alarm or distress. The charge is being reviewed. Adjourned.
Orrain Ebanks is up on a common assault charge. The defense wants to see the CCTV. Adjourned.
Moises Bush – another assault, another adjournment, this time because the accused man is not here.
Ian Duffel: Waiting for report. Adjourned.
Hansel Rankine: No papers. Adjourned.
Ezekiel Carter: Waiting for report. Adjourned.
“Please, a plea?” Magistrate Foldats implores as Javee Dixon steps up. It’s not going to be so simple. His lawyer has been informed the alleged victim does not wish to go to court. The case is adjourned for review.
If the magistrate is getting impatient, he does not show it. An avuncular man, prone to delivering earnest sermons to inveterate criminals about seizing second chances, Magistrate Foldats presides over the court with the air of a kindly headmaster; cajoling, encouraging, occasionally meting out discipline.
Irin Kyle Terry pleads guilty to taking 67 conch, offering the mitigating explanation, “I never got the conch, they [the marine police] put them back in the ocean.”
The magistrate allows himself a half smile before patiently explaining that you do not keep your catch when you are arrested for illegal activity.
“These charges are serious, even though you might not think they are. We need to preserve our marine resources for future generations,” he reminds Terry and his accomplice.
Romeo Reid, Eustace Elliott and Alex Antonio Brown are charged with a series of offenses, including “permitting music and dancing without a license,” which add up to an allegation that they were running a bar without the proper paperwork.
It could be their lucky day, however. Criminal charges are supposed to be brought within six months of the prosecution receiving notice of the offense, and defense attorney Amelia Fosuhene thinks the deadline has passed.
“It may be that the Crown has run out of time,” she tells the magistrate. The case is adjourned for the issue to be resolved.
There are signs of progress in some cases. Stephen Hallett pleads not guilty to stealing a kayak from Cost-U-Less, Damion Henry admits to a wounding offense, Dennis Pouchie acknowledges he was caught outside Puritan Cleaners with nearly 5 grams of cocaine.
As the court grinds through the roll call of defendants, the magistrate sets case management hearings, orders social inquiry reports and sends the more serious charges on to Grand Court.
Some of the drug-related offenses are referred to a separate court, where the defendant gets an opportunity to avoid jail time by cooperating with a strict treatment regime.
“This is your chance to put your best foot forward,” he tells Justina Culliana, encouraging her to comply with a social inquiry report.
The report will examine her background and her attitude to help determine what sentence she should face for theft worth $272.39 from Foster’s Food Fair supermarket.
It is one of several occasions throughout the morning in which he delivers this pep talk. Some defendants are keen to listen and do what they can to stay out of jail; others seem to have heard it before.
A handful of defendants appear by video link from Northward Prison. Notable for his absence is prisoner Daniel Rankine, who faces charges of burglary and handling stolen goods. The prison officer informs the court that he is declining to attend. A note goes on his file and a production order is issued to compel him to attend next time.
Darvis Ramos Mendoza steps up to face accusations that he held a knife to someone’s throat in a dispute. But there’s a new kind of problem.
“No hablo español,” the magistrate explains.
The interpreter cannot be found. Mendoza manages to convey his not guilty plea through a marshal, who fortunately speaks fluent Spanish, and the case is set for a pre-trial hearing a few weeks down the road. A note is made for an interpreter to be present.
One last call for Moises Bush. It’s the end of the morning session and there is no one left in the waiting area, but the marshal dutifully shouts his name into the empty room before announcing he is a no-show.
There’s just one case slated for the afternoon. The sentencing of Kurtney Johnson, for separate burglary sprees in 2013 and 2015.
After multiple adjournments while the court waits for his lawyer to finish up in Traffic Court, the prosecutor outlines the evidence of his admitted crimes, a series of crude smash-and-grab raids of outdoor bars.
They are largely low-value nuisance crimes. One is for stealing eight beers from a cooler at Cayman Cabana, which he burgled on multiple occasions.
The court is sympathetic to his drug problems, but he’s already been given numerous opportunities and it is time for him to be sentenced.
“It is a credit to the helping services on this island that they never gave up on you,” Magistrate Foldats tells him. “We have tried to access the resources to help you. If we can’t help you or you can’t help yourself, then you are back through that revolving door.
“You are out looking for coke or money to buy coke, you get caught, you’re released and the same thing happens again. That’s what has been happening for much too long.”
It’s a familiar cycle, and one which repeats itself time and again in the Summary Court. Familiar crimes, familiar faces.
Johnson is sentenced and gives his speech of thanks.
The magistrate wishes him well and closes the final file of the day.
“The court stands adjourned. God Save the Queen.” And with that, another day in Summary Court is done.