Skylar Mack and Vanjae Ramgeet were immediately taken into custody Tuesday to begin their four-month prison sentences for breaching mandatory quarantine, after the government successfully appealed an earlier judgment that imposed community service and the cost of isolation accommodation.
Justice Roger Chapple heard the appeal in Grand Court on Monday and delivered the revised sentence Tuesday morning, setting aside a Summary Court judgment which imposed 40 hours of community service and payment of $2,600, the standard cost of isolating at a government quarantine facility.
When returning his decision, Chapple stated that he understood the need for a balancing act. However, he found that “the gravity of the breach was such that the only appropriate sentence would have been one of immediate imprisonment”.
Mack, 18, and her boyfriend Ramgeet, 24, each pleaded guilty to one count of failing to comply with COVID-19-suppression regulations.
The charge stems from an incident on 29 Nov., when Mack attended a crowded jet-ski event in South Sound, in which Ramgeet was participating. Mack, who had arrived on island two days prior to the breach, was required to self-isolate for 14 days before she could leave her home or interact with the public.
Despite these requirements, on the day of the breach, Mack is said to have interacted with the public for more than seven hours. When police arrived at the event, she was not wearing a mask and was not practising social distancing.
When appealing Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez’s Summary Court sentence, Director of Public Prosecution Patrick Moran told the court the judgment was unduly lenient, and did not reflect the wishes of Parliament, nor did it reflect the sentencing principles of deterrence and punishment.
“These offences should have been met with far more stringent measures,” Moran told Chapple during Monday’s appeal hearing. “When it comes to a matter of deterrence, the sentence imposed are likely to have little to no effect on other like-minded individuals.”
Moran said that when reaching her verdict, Hernandez was also wrong to have taken into account Mack’s scheduled return flight to the US on 22 Dec.
During the same hearing, Jonathan Hughes, who represented both defendants, urged Chapple not to set aside Hernandez’s sentence, noting that both defendants had already paid a significant toll.
“Ms. Mack has paid her fine in full from her savings, which resulted in a significant portion of her funds being depleted,” said Hughes. “She has received hate mail, so far as to even say death threats.”
He added, “There is no way that it can be right that a custodial sentence is imposed for a first-time offence on an 18-year-old defendant, who entered an early guilty plea.”
Hughes told the court that Ramgeet was stripped of his victory at the jet-ski event, and the prize money/medals/trophy were all returned; he was required to write a formal apology to the Cayman Islands Watercraft Association; and he would be banned from riding in the first few races at the start of the next season.
The day before the breach, the latest COVID-19-suppression regulations had taken effect, which increased the penalties for violating quarantine protocols.
Under the previous regulations a sentence of up to one-year imprisonment and/or a fine of $1,000 could be imposed for a breach of the quarantine requirements. The new regulations increased the sentence to up to two years imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
“This was a clear and unambiguous statement from the legislature,” said Chapple, when commenting on the new regulations, noting the custodial sentence was doubled and the fine raised by a factor of 10.
When returning his decision, Chapple said it was the court’s duty to reflect the will of the Parliament and to impose a sentence on behalf of the people.
“This was as flagrant a breach as could be imagined; it was borne of selfishness and arrogance,” said Chapple.
When sentencing Mack, Chapple said, “This was entirely deliberate and planned, as evidenced by her desire to switch her wristband the day before to a looser one that she was then able to remove.”
In explaining his decision, Chapple said he started with 15 months in prison.
“This sentence requires a drastic reduction to reflect the strong mitigating circumstances, those being her age, previous good character, and her obvious remorse,” he said, also citing Mack’s early guilty plea, before setting a four-month prison term.
Chapple then turned his attention to Ramgeet, imposing the same sentence and telling him that as a Caymanian who endured lockdown, he should have known better than to have acted in the manner that he did.
Mack, a medical student at the University of Georgia, will be required to leave Cayman upon completion of her sentence, and the court has recommended that she not be allowed to re-enter the country as long as the borders remain closed.
Original story: An 18-year-old visitor and her Caymanian boyfriend were each sentenced to four months in prison for their respective roles in a quarantine breach case that has sparked outrage across Cayman.
Skylar Mack, from the United States, and Vanjae Ramgeet were sentenced Tuesday morning after the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the original sentence.
The pair was originally ordered to pay $2,600 each and perform 40 hours of community service. Deputy Governor Franz Manderson last week told members of Parliament that government planned to appeal that sentence.
Justice Roger Chapple heard the appeal on Monday and delivered the revised sentence Tuesday. He started with a 16-month sentence before settling on four months due to mitigating factors. Mack was in tears as the sentence was announced while Ramgeet sat in silence.
Check back on this developing story throughout the day.
(Kevin Morales contributed to this report.)