Protesters avoid prosecution - Supreme Court
Ten people charged with offences in connection with December 2 — including the Reverend Nicholas Tweed and union leader Chris Furbert — have been bound over to keep the peace.
During a hearing yesterday, one defendant, David Saltus, 57, pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting an officer with an umbrella.
However Larry Mussenden, the Director of Public Prosecutions, otherwise offered the ten defendants a nolle prosequi, bringing an end to their prosecution on all other charges, after Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves ordered all ten defendants to keep the peace for a period of six months.
Mr Justice Greaves warned the defendants that in addition to a $100 fine, the Crown could bring the charges back against them within the next six months should they breach the order.
“A breach on your part might activate that power and the DPP will come back against you if you breach the binding order,” he said. “I will expect that you will do all in your power to be on good behaviour and not breach the peace over the next six months.”
Speaking outside the courtroom defence lawyer Jerome Lynch, QC, said: “Today is a victory for common sense.”
He said the ruling did not involve any admission of guilt, noting that the charges faced by the
ten were 110 years old and had likely never been used in Bermuda before.
“It is better to sometimes ignore minor breaches of the law in the interest of allowing peaceful protest, which remains a constitutional and human right,” he said.
“This has no impact on the misuse of pepper spray on demonstrators who await the outcome of an internal police inquiry with interest, but with little confidence.”
And while he said the nolle prosequi meant that the charges could potentially return to the courts, he understands that is unlikely unless there was a “repeat performance”.
The binding orders came during a scheduled mention in which the defendants — Bermuda Industrial Union president Mr Furbert, Mr Tweed of the People's Campaign, Arnold Smith, Alafia Henry, Anthony Burgess, Chris Furbert Jr, union organiser Glen Simmons, Lily May Bulford and Neville Goddard and Saltus — were scheduled to appear for offences related to the protests outside the House of Assembly on December 2.
Other than Saltus, the men formally accepted no guilt, but the court heard there was evidence that there had been a breach of the peace. Meanwhile Saltus only pled guilty to a single count of serious assault.
In the case of Saltus, prosecutor Cindy Clarke, the deputy director of public prosecution, said that the defendant was in the midst of the demonstration when police started towards the protesters.
In the middle of the subsequent clash, Saltus was seen on camera raising an umbrella above the crowd and bringing it down on the head of an officer, who was wearing a protective helmet.
Defence lawyer Michael Scott noted that Saltus had no previous convictions, saying that he was caught up when the officers came forward causing the “the events to change”.
“His primary mitigation was he was caught up in the change of events,” Mr Scott said. “The arrival of the phalanx of officers changed these events.”
Saltus himself apologised for his actions, saying: “It was the heat of the moment. I didn't come here to do anything like that. I came here for a peaceful protest. I had no intention of harming anyone.
“It was hard for me, being pushed against and I was in the middle of just chaos.”
Mr Justice Greaves described his actions as a “serious offence”, saying: “The courts are the guardians of the constitutional right to free speech and association, and the constitutional right to freedom of expression, but those rights are not absolute. There are exceptions. Though these courts, through a long line of case law, give liberal interpretation of such rights, that is far from sanctioning actions such as yours which result in the assault of an officer.”
Given all the circumstances, he released Saltus on a six-month conditional discharge for the offence.
Earlier yesterday, Sherman Hill, Antoine Minors, Ernest Trott and Dornielle Farrel returned to Magistrates' Court in connection with December 2.
All four previously denied obstructing police officers in the execution of their duty.
After a brief hearing before magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo, they were told to reappear on June 14.
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