This month High Court Justice Ann-Marie Smith dismissed a $45,000 burglary case due to police mistakes.
In a June 5 oral ruling, the judge alleged that Detective Sergeant Donna Monsanto’s treatment of a key witness in the trial was “totally unbecoming of a senior officer in the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.”
“DS Monsanto, in my view, and in the view of the impartial onlooker, has made many mistakes and false steps in this case,” Ms. Smith said. “I am convinced the conduct was bad.”
Jamal “Blackie” Victor was being tried for allegedly playing a role in the August 2018 burglary of $45,000 from Crystal’s Nightclub, but he walked out of court a free man after the case was permanently stayed due to the police missteps.
The alleged mistakes centred largely around interactions between Ms. Monsanto and witness Sharima Stevens, who was described in court as Mr. Victor’s girlfriend.
According to the judge, Ms. Monsanto covertly recorded a conversation with Ms. Stevens after the trial had started; improperly assured her that her name would not appear in the media, which the judge described as “an impossible promise to make;” and improperly provided her with information from a closed-door proceeding known as a voir dire, among other missteps.
“I am not here to punish DS Monsanto, but I am here to ensure that the integrity of this trial is maintained and that the confidence of the judicial system is maintained,” Ms. Smith said.
During the opening statements in the case on May 17, Crown Counsel Nick Saunders told jurors that he would strive to prove that Mr. Victor agreed to steal the money along with others, and that if they believed Mr. Victor was a part of the operation they should convict him.
He described the alleged crime as having happened in the early hours of the morning after all of the people previously inside the club had left.
CCTV footage of multiple burglars entering the premises of the nightclub began at 5:39 a.m. on Aug. 13, 2018, and the entire burglary spanned 12 minutes, Mr. Saunders said. During this time, he added, the burglars went straight to the cash register, took money from a bucket on the shelf behind the register, and wheeled away a safe in a wheelbarrow.
He told the court that the alleged crime was an “inside job,” and that it was a coordinated effort.
Mr. Saunders added that evidence of burglary would be presented, including CCTV footage, DNA evidence found inside black gloves at the crime scene, and a crowbar used to break a camera inside the nightclub.
Speaker of the House
On May 20, Ms. Smith had to keep tempers down in her courtroom while Speaker of the House Julian Willock testified.
Mr. Willock said that days before the crime, he had seen the defendant cleaning up at the club while he went in to change money for Gabriel James, the owner of the club and Mr. Willock’s family member. He also said that he and Mr. Victor made eye contact twice, and that Mr. Victor had seen him and Mr. James handling the money in Mr. James’ office. He added that Mr. Victor had complained to him about being paid late.
Mr. Willock gave this information while facing a series of questions from Mr. Saunders. He was then cross-examined by defence attorney Patrick Thompson.
The first thing Mr. Thompson pointed out was Mr. Willock’s witness statement, which was dated several days prior to the crime itself.
The crime occurred on Aug. 13, 2018, and the events that Mr. Willock testified to allegedly occurred three days prior to the robbery. But the witness statement was signed and dated Aug. 7, 2018.
Asked by Mr. Thompson if he accepted the date of the statement, Mr. Willock said he refused to answer the question.
“The question is put to you and you have to answer,” the judge reminded him.
After her directions, Mr. Willock conceded to signing a witness statement incorrectly dated Aug. 7, but said that the events recounted in the statement relate to Aug. 10.
The next dispute was over the amount of money Mr. Willock changed for Mr. James. Mr. Willock changed money for Mr. James three times a week on aver- age over the course of four or five years, the court heard.
“Would you accept it’s a lot of money being changed?” Mr. Thompson asked.
“I can’t quantify that,” Mr. Willock responded.
“I want to know if you would say you’ve changed a lot of money. Yes or no?” Mr. Thompson explained.
“Yes,” Mr. Willock conceded.
Asked if the bag he used to change the money was transparent, Mr.Willock responded,“I don’t understand what that means,” adding, “Transparent to me means above-board, nothing to hide.”
Asked by Mr. Thompson if he would accept that transparent also means see-through, Mr. Willock refused the definition provided by Mr. Thompson.
“You’re not prepared to accept it from me, or do you need a dictionary?” Mr. Thompson asked, prompting Mr.Willock to ask for a dictionary definition.
Mr. Saunders then interjected, calling it futile to ask the same question again. Mr. Thompson deemed it stubborn rather than futile and pressed on.
“Was the bag see-through?” he asked Mr. Willock.
“What do you mean by ‘see- through?’” Mr Willock retorted. “I don’t think anyone could’ve seen the money in the bag.”
After the defence attorney asked him a few more questions, Mr. Willock protested to the judge.
“I’m not gonna sit here and be tortured by him,” he said.“Either you get him under control, or —”
“Mr. Willock,” Ms. Smith interjected, “It doesn’t work that way. I don’t take orders from you.”
After a brief pause, Mr.Willock thanked the judge and apologised.
Director of Public Prosecutions Kim Hollis did not immediately respond to a query about whether she plans to appeal the judge’s decision, and police did not comment on the allegations against them.