Speaker of the House bit me, says complainant

| 23/02/2024
Cayman News Service
McKeeva Bush as speaker of the House in 2019

(CNS): A civil servant allegedly indecently assaulted by then speaker of parliament McKeeva Bush (MP) told the police that he bit and sucked her hand, leaving a mark, at a cocktail party in September 2022. The complainant was one of two women whose evidence was presented to the court on Thursday via police video interviews conducted just days after the incident. In the video, she said that Bush was “drunk and slurring his words” during the uncomfortable encounter at the event where both women were working.

Bush has been charged with two counts of indecent assault, with the alternative charge of common assault, and has pleaded not guilty to all four counts. On Thursday, as the jury heard from both complainants, Bush sat silently in the dock for most of the day, occasionally shaking his head as the women’s evidence was played to the court.

In the video evidence, the first complainant told the police that she believed Bush was drunk because he was slurring his words and appeared to be stumbling as he entered the cocktail party at the Ritz hotel. This event was part of the Caribbean Tourism Organization conference hosted by the tourism ministry, where regional leaders, delegates and the press were in attendance.

The first complainant explained that because this was an important event and everyone was working to make sure it went off without a hitch, she had been concerned that Bush might be drunk as he arrived at the party and wanted to try to prevent him from causing any embarrassment. When he began speaking with her, “I really knew he had been drinking,” she said.

She went on to describe an uncomfortable encounter and her efforts to offer him food to counter the alcohol, which Bush refused. The woman recalled how he had held her hand and hugged her. While she had put her hand around his back, she explained that her main focus was keeping him away from the other international guests and, at the same time, remaining polite and manoeuvring him away from her.

But during the few of minutes they were together, she said, he had kissed her shoulder and noted that if her husband, who was also at the event, saw him do that, he wouldn’t like it, as he kissed her again. Soon afterwards, she said, a protocol officer standing nearby, who must have seen what had happened, came over and steered Bush away.

As she gave evidence, the woman said repeatedly that she was very uncomfortable about the encounter and embarrassed because people had seen what he had done. A story was posted on social media just hours after the event, and although she continued working during the course of the evening, she “felt bad” about what had happened, and the whole night had been marred by Bush’s behaviour.

The complainant explained that she had been upset by the incident and put in a position she did not want to be in — having to report what had happened to her bosses and then to the police. Despite believing that she was “doing the right thing” by making a report, she was anxious about it. But she said it was the type of behaviour women deal with and are expected to “just brush off”, even though it was extremely uncomfortable.

She said no one had forced her to make the report, and if it had happened in a bar, she probably would not have said anything. But as it had happened while she was at work and at an important event, she felt she had to come forward and formalise the complaint.

She said that this type of thing had happened to her before, and speaking out might lead to things changing. In the past, she had “not been brave enough”, but she was now a mature woman, not a little girl anymore, even though the whole incident had reduced her to feeling like a little girl again.

Following the viewing of her video evidence, she answered questions put to her by crown prosecutor Charles Miskin KC. She said she had spoken briefly to the other complainant in this case, who told her she had been bitten by Bush. She said the two knew each other well, and she had seen the bite that the other woman had said she received from her equally uncomfortable encounter with Bush. She had then made a brief mention of her own difficult few minutes with him.

During cross-examination by Sallie Bennett-Jenkins KC, who is representing Bush, the woman said she had not seen anyone taking pictures of them when Bush had first put his arm around her. She also refuted suggestions by the defence lawyer that Bush had never mentioned her husband as he dropped the small kiss on her shoulder. The woman said she was certain that he had referred to her husband not liking what he was doing because it had stuck in her mind.

When challenged about Bush stumbling, as the CCTV footage was shown, the woman said he appeared to her to be stumbling at the time but that “swaying” may have been a better description. Asked if she was aware of Bush’s medical issues affecting his mobility, the woman said she was not, and the first she was aware of any problem he might have was when he had turned up to court using a walker.

She also accepted that when she had spoken to a police officer the morning after the incident, she had described Bush’s behaviour as “inappropriate” and “unprofessional”, but because he had not fondled her, she was not sure it reached the level of an indecent assault and “didn’t warrant taking the guy to court”. She also confirmed that she had reported the incident to her management team and the Cabinet secretary and that she had spoken to the deputy governor as well.

Following the evidence of the first complainant, the police video interview with the second woman allegedly bitten by Bush was also shown to the jury. In the video, she recalled how she had been working until quite late in another room and had slipped into the cocktail party to get food. She had engaged in conversation with a few people before heading to the bar to get a drink.

It was there that she encountered Bush and greeted him. She said she could see he was very drunk and described him as swaying in his chair and sloshing his drink. She said he smiled, waved and called her over, and although she had gone, she was aware of how drunk he was and the number of high-level dignitaries in attendance.

She described a slightly awkward greeting where she tried to avoid getting too close and doing “the bob and weave”, being friendly but trying to stay out of the way. She said she was aware of other people trying to get Bush to leave, and she, too, was trying to pull away from him, but he was holding on to her hand.

As the uncomfortable moment continued, he appeared to try to kiss her hand but instead sucked and bit it, she said. Describing the situation as “weird” and “bizarre”, she said the move was “odd and creepy, to say the least”.

At that point, she was able to get away, but instead of getting a soft drink as she had planned, she opted for a glass of wine as she processed what had happened. She then joined a group of people she knew, asking, “Man! Am I the only person who noticed the speaker is really drunk?” She then told them, “I think he gave me a hickey on my hand.”

She related how she had watched the efforts of various people, including Cline Glidden, to get Bush out of the event, which she said was like watching a toddler as he tottered around the room back and forth. Shortly afterwards, as she readied herself to leave, she called her husband, telling him, “I think the speaker of the House just bit me,” which was when she realised she needed to let her bosses know what had happened, given that it was an official event packed with overseas dignitaries and journalists.

She said she was very uncomfortable with the incident, describing it as “just too bizarre”, adding that as an “old lady” at 54 years old, she had not been sure what to do about what had happened. She said she was not sure “it was a crime for a drunk old dude to put a hickey on your hand”, as she told police she had tried not to kick up a fuss and simply wanted to extricate herself from an uncomfortable situation.

Bush had not groped or hurt her, the complainant said, but he had hugged her for an uncomfortable period and gone on to suck and bite the back of her wrist. At the time, she had a lot on her plate with work and family and felt like she did not have the energy to deal with the situation, she said.

“I don’t have time for creepy old men,” she told police during the interview as she tried to recall the details of what was clearly an awkward and difficult encounter.

The woman, who said she had known Bush since she was a child, also spoke well of him. She said she had a lot of affection for Bush, having enjoyed a very amicable relationship with him over the years through her work. She even said she considered him to be a brilliant mind but that his behaviour at that event, as speaker, was heartbreaking, and the incident was “all a bit surreal and almost shocking”.

The court was adjourned after the video was played to the jury, and the second complainant is now expected to give evidence from the witness stand on Friday.

The case continues.

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