Youth workers on trial for manslaughter

The trial of two men charged in relation to the drowning of 14-year-old Risco Batten began in the Grand Court on Friday.

Michael Anthony Stewart and Larry Levers are jointly charged with manslaughter and cruelty to a child. At the time of the 2015 drowning, Stewart and Levers were both employed as senior youth supervisors and youth workers at the Bonaventure Boys Home, a government-owned facility that houses boys between the ages of 13 and 16.

The Grand Court jury heard that on 29 Dec. 2015, Stewart and Levers took a group of the boys to fish from the shore near the Cayman Turtle Centre in West Bay, which was approximately a mile from the boys home.

“It seems the weather deteriorated and it was for that reason, or another, that they moved to South Church Street,” said Richard Matthews, QC, who has been instructed by prosecutor Candia James-Malcolm. “It appears the weather further deteriorated and so they moved further, to below South Sound Cemetery, opposite the San Sebastian development.”

The jury heard that the boys were taken to a place commonly referred to as ‘Pull and be Damned Point’, so named because of its strong ocean currents which make for dangerous swimming conditions.

Once on the beach, the boys dispersed and eventually swam as far as 100 yards from shore. The jury heard that Batten, who had joined the boys’ home nine days prior to the outing as a result of a court order, was excited about the fishing excursion. While the boys were swimming in the sea, the weather conditions continued to worsen.

“A short time later, they were instructed to return to shore,” Matthews told the jury. “It was at that time that Risco encountered difficulties and cried out for help.”

The jury heard that because Batten was new to the home, the other boys were not sure if he was playing a practical joke or if he was in genuine distress. One of the boys returned to help him; however, after being dragged under the water by a “frantic and panicking” Batten, the young boy had to leave and save himself.

As this was occurring, Levers and Stewart watched from the shore, the court heard. Levers called the police, and Stewart went to wait by the road for officers to arrive. Neither men entered the water.

Five minutes later, police officer Brandon Phillips arrived at the beach. He swam out to search for Batten, joining a group of the boys, who by then had re-entered the sea using kayaks they found on the beach. They showed Phillips the location where the boy was last seen. By now, Batten was completely submerged.

Phillips eventually found the boy and carried his unresponsive body back to shore on one of the kayaks.

“Valiant efforts were made to perform CPR,” said Matthews. “It was all to no avail. Risco was pronounced dead.”

When outlining the prosecution’s case against Levers and Stewart, Matthews told the jury that both men had a duty of care to each of the children.

“It was part of the job of each of the men to supervise the children,” he said. “Their primary duty was to preserve the life of the boys in their charge. They [Levers and Stewart] were there in place of the parents. Each of them failed to discharge their personal duty. Their omission, that is, their failure to act, resulted in criminal culpability.”

Levers is represented by Courtenay Griffiths, QC, who is being instructed by Amelia Fosuhene. Stewart is represented by Paul Keleher, QC, who is being instructed by Lee Halliday-Davis.

Both men have denied the charges and the trial continues.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now