Track coach detained in US pending extradition

A U.S. magistrate judge ordered last week that a Cayman Islands track coach be detained without bond pending any further court appearances in connection with an extradition request the British government made for his return to Cayman.

Ato Modibo Stephens was charged in Cayman on June 24 with two counts of indecent assault, one charge of gross indecency and one charge of misuse of an Information and Communications Technology Authority network in relation to an underage female victim.

A criminal complaint filed with the U.S. court seeking his extradition alleges that Stephens indecently touched his underage victim on at least two occasions between April and November 2015. The court records allege that other instances of indecent exposure occurred around the same period.

Stephens’s alleged conduct was reported to police after images of the victim were found on Stephens’s phone, the court records state. It was further stated in the court records that Stephens left Cayman in mid-February and has been residing in the Miami, Florida, area.

He was arrested by U.S. marshals on Aug. 16 after a warrant was issued by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida.

During a hearing on Aug. 19, court records state, Stephens argued through his court-appointed attorney that “special circumstances” existed to justify his release on bond in the U.S., pending extradition proceedings.

Among the special reasons listed by Stephens: “He was a professional athlete and participated in track and field events at the Olympics … and he is well-known in his home country and also has international celebrity status in the track and field world.”

In addition, Stephens argued that he was a U.S. citizen with no prior criminal convictions and close ties to south Florida.

U.S. prosecutors objected to Stephens’s release on bond, referring to the “weight of the evidence” set forth in the criminal complaint against him including: “the circumstances in which [Stephens] left the Cayman Islands, and the nature of the offense … it is argued that [Stephens] posed a danger to the community if he were to be released on bond, noting that sexual abuse of a minor is often an under-reported and often private crime.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman explained that the U.S. typically has a legal presumption against bond in extradition proceedings because the state is obliged to deliver the extradited person and “granting bond could make that obligation impossible to fulfill.”

Moreover, Stephens’s status as a former Olympic athlete, while unusual, was not “legally relevant” in assessing the matter, Judge Goodman noted.

“If ‘being different’, in general, were sufficient to justify a bond, then all Olympics athletes, all Oscar winners, all lotto winners and all professional race car drivers would be entitled to release on bond in extradition cases,” the judge wrote in his ruling, issued on Aug. 31. “In my view, this would be illogical and I do not deem those factors ‘special circumstances’ as envisioned by the courts.”

In addition to confinement without bond, the court ordered Stephens held in a separate facility from any criminals and that he be delivered to the custody of U.S. marshals before any future court appearances.