Crown: Care home workers culpable for teen’s death

| 20/01/2020
Cayman News Service
Risco Batten

(CNS): Michael Stewart and Larry Levers were so “extraordinarily negligent” when they took a group of teenage boys from the Bonaventure Boys Home Home fishing in November 2015 that they are culpable for the death of 14-year-old Risco Batten, who drowned that day while in their care, the crown said as it opened the manslaughter case last week. The supervisors should not have “exposed the boys to such an obvious risk of danger”, compounded by the fact that both men were themselves very poor swimmers, the jury heard.

Richard Matthews QC is leading the prosecution’s case against the two men, who were at the time experienced senior youth support workers at the West Bay home. He told the court that the tragic death was due to the failure of the two men to adequately supervise the boys. He said the evidence would demonstrate this to the members of the jury so that they would be sure the men were guilty of causing Batten’s death.

Batten drowned off the coast of South Sound after he got into difficulty swimming back to shore from the strong undercurrent at a place known as “Pull and be damned point”.

Although his friends from the home tried to save him, they were unable to do so because the rough seas and strong currents put their lives in danger too. One of the boys told police that he tried to save Batten but he struggled hard as he was also being pulled under the water.

Matthews said that because neither of the care home workers could swim adequately, when Batten got into trouble the other boys under their supervision were put in danger too. This, he said, added to their culpability. Because they failed to take into account the obvious risk of danger the boys were in, when that risk became an eventuality they could do nothing to help, making them even more criminally negligent.

The men are charged with manslaughter and charges of child cruelty, as the crown contends that their overall level of supervision was so bad that they are both responsible for the teenager’s death.

The tragic events unfolded after the boys, who were meant to be on an organised fishing activity from the shoreline in West Bay by the Cayman Turtle Centre, asked to go to another spot because the fish were not biting. Without informing the home of the change of venue, Stewart and Levers took the boys to town, but since they could not find a suitable spot there they went on to the beach near the community centre at South Sound.

According to the home’s rules, fishing was supposed to take place from shore, and given they had no water safety equipment with them, the supervisors should have ensured that the boys did not go into the water beyond wading depth to allow them to cast their lines.

But it appeared the boys did go further out, and by the time the Stewart and Levers began calling them in, the weather had turned rough and the currents were beginning to be strong. The supervisors told police that they were unsure if the boys were swimming as they started to return to shore, as they believed they were wading. But when Batten appeared to go under the water and the other boys went back to try to help him, the supervisors then called 911 as a precautionary measure, they said.

Even though one officer arrived within minutes and the boys had managed to borrow a kayak, when they eventually found Batten, pulled him from the water, attempted CPR and rushed him to hospital in the waiting ambulance, it was all in vain as he was pronounced dead a short time later.

In statements given to the police following his death, the men accepted that they had exercised poor judgement and that they were not familiar with the currents in the area.

Paul Keleher QC, the defence attorney representing Stewart, the more senior of the care home workers, warned the jury not to jump to conclusions until they had heard all of the evidence. He said neither of the men set out that day to harm the boys and what happened was a tragic accident that no one could have foreseen, regardless of the crown’s claims that they ought to have.

Keleher said the youth workers were as devastated by what happened as anyone else and they were not as blameworthy as the crown claimed. Once the jury had heard the evidence, they would see an alternative picture that would show them that men were not criminally culpable and not guilty of the charges, he said.

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