BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER of SKNVibes Stachio Williams, who is also a photo journalist of the online media house, won his battle against the Federation’s Attorney General (AG) and a member of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force (RSCNPF) in the Basseterre High Court on Friday, May 29.
Appearing before His Lordship Justice Francis Belle, Williams was awarded judgment in a Claim filed against the AG and a Constable of the RSCNPF for wrongful arrest, resulting in false imprisonment and deprivation of property.
At approximately 7:17 a.m. on Friday, December 12, 2008, Williams was arrested by the police for taking photographs of a crime scene in Cunningham Village, Cayon.
According to eyewitness account, while standing some 35 feet away from the closest tape to the crime scene and approximately 55 feet from where the lifeless body of Randy ‘Robby’ Scott lay, Williams took pictures of the scene with his cellular phone and was arrested, handcuffed, placed in a police vehicle and taken to the Cayon Police Station.
In his explanation to what transpired, Williams said, “The police were there and they had their tape pulled across the crime scene. I was at least 35 feet away from the scene. I was standing on a wall behind a large crowd of people and I took out my mobile phone to capture the event. I had it in my hand and a certain police officer suspected that I might have been taking photos. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you need to stop taking photos.’ I responded by saying, ‘Well, I’m a journalist, I’m here doing my job.’ He said, ‘Listen, you need to stop taking photos, and furthermore I need to get that phone from you.’ I told him that he couldn’t have it.
“He then decided to arrest me. He handcuffed me and put me in one of their vehicles. While in the vehicle, he demanded the phone and I said, ‘I did nothing wrong, why are you taking me in?’ He said, ‘Listen, you obstructed the police.’ I told him that I could not have obstructed the police from doing their job because I was nowhere close to the scene and he cannot have my phone.
“Despite my objections, he put his hand in my pocket, took the phone and drove off the bus. He then ordered me out of the bus and put me on the bench at the Cayon Police Station and held me there for questioning still handcuffed.”
In an effort to have Williams released, one of his colleagues contacted the Police Press and Public Relations Officer, Inspector Crowell Henry, and also the Commissioner of Police, Austin Williams, and requested their intervention. However, it was not until the same colleague contacted WINN FM’s General Manager Clive Bacchus, who aired his concerns, did the police release Williams without any charges after being in custody for more than an hour.
Consequently, Williams sought legal redress and retained the services of Barrister-at-Law Adrian Scantlebury, who, on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, wrote the Police Constable and the AG (defendants) a letter of demand claiming compensation. However, there was no response to that letter and Williams commenced civil proceedings in the High Court against the defendants on Tuesday, February 10, 2009.
The Constable was sued both in his personal capacity and as an officer and/or agent of the Crown, being a member of the RSCNPF acting in the course of his duty at the time of the incident. The AG was joined as a defendant, being party to be sued in all cases where liability of the Crown arises. This is provided for by the Crown Proceedings Ordinance Chapter 22 of the Laws of the Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis.
By an Amended Defence filed by the AG and the Constable on Friday, May 8, 2009, the defendants conceded that Williams’ arrest and deprivation of his cellular phone were both wrongful. And on Friday, May 29, 2009, the parties consented to the High Court entering judgment against the defendants in favour of Williams on the basis of their (defendants) concessions.
No figure was decided upon at that stage for damages and the parties were ordered by Justice Belle to agree on one by Friday, June 12, 2009, failing which the Court will decide what sum Williams is to be paid as compensation for the two claims.
Commenting on the issue, Williams said he was happy that it was over and he hopes that the improved relationship between the police and the media continues indefinitely.
“I am very happy that this issue has come to an end. It was a lesson to be learnt by members of both institutions, for we are both obligated to the general public. While the police are mandated to serve and protect, we, members of the media, provide information, educate, teach and entertain…we are the people’s watchdog!” Williams said.
He also declared that a better relationship now exists between the police and the media.
“Following the unfortunate incident, which I strongly believe arose from ignorance of the role of the media, a much better relationship exists between members of the media and the police. I can attest to the fact that on arrival at crime scenes after the Cayon incident, the police have treated me with the respect media representatives deserve and I certainly do return in kind. The old saying that we sometimes have to disagree to agree certainly holds true, and the outcome of the case is testament to that. I am therefore pleased to know that members of both institutions can now work harmoniously,” Williams said.
In his comments to SKNVibes, Police Press and Public Relations Officer, Inspector Cromwell Henry also noted that the incident was an unfortunate event in the relationship between the two institutions.
He however stated that there has always been a good relationship between the police and the media, which had grown for the betterment of both parties since the establishment of the Public Relations Office.
“I certainly concur with Williams’ statement on the unfortunate incident. This incident should not have occurred; however, it has caused us to expedite the instituting of the force’s policy concerning the police and the media with regards to crime scene.
“Following that incident, we have had lectures with members of the force and also discussions with the St. Kitts-Nevis Media Association on police/media relations. Those lectures and discussions have proven to be very fruitful and we shall always endeavour to maintain professionalism in that relationship,” Henry said.