Posted by: nastylittletruths | June 2, 2009

The ‘Cassava Man’ And Justice Stanley John

A few months ago I promised to write the story about the ‘Cassava Man’ from Enterprise, but the small furore (there’s always a bigger one) that erupted when Justice Stanley John chided the magistracy about overly harsh punishments reminded me that I was late as usual. A letter by Gavin Nicholas in Sunday’s Express, however, with some some striking similarities raised me out of my lethargy…

The Cassava Man, as I was introduced to him, is a late forties-close to fifty guy of East Indian descent living in Ragoonanan Road, Enterprise. Apart from planting cassava, he used to be a truck driver working for a private fleet owner in Charlieville. He lives in a humble two bedroom home with his wife and children and said that life was a struggle, but not impossible when he had his two streams of income. He regaled me with the days when he had to reach Sunday afternoon in a quarry, sleep through the night and hope to get a load of aggregate on Monday… some time during the day…

The truck driving job came to crashing end one day in February 2008 in Sangre Grande when he was pulled out of his truck and beaten senseless by police officers of the Sangre Grande station. And I mean literally senseless because he woke up in the Sangre Grande hospital with an IV tube up his arm.

As he explained it to me, he was trying to manoeuvre between taxis parked badly on the road leading to the roundabout (believable… I’ve been there before) when he was accosted by a man who turned out to be an out of uniform policeman. Of course, when the plainclothes officer asked him if he was drunk (a high cab of a truck can be easily seen weaving from side to side, but not necessarily what’s blocking it), he responded with an expletive – first mistake.

The plainclothes officer started to yell at a uniformed policeman on the roundabout to stop the truck; ran up, opened the door and dragged Cassava Man out. As he described it, he never got beaten in his life, but it was so bad he blacked out and got back up in the hospital. He said that he was so afraid that they beat him again when they carried him to the courthouse the next day, he would have admitted to anything. A call to his employer by the police to confirm that he was authorised to drive the truck resulted in both the employer and his wife being at the courthouse.

The employer came for his truck (all the seats were cut open in a ‘search for illegal drugs’) and the wife was encouraged to hire a lawyer. When Cassava Man approached the bench, he told me that he was going tell his side of the story when he felt a touch on his shoulder and a ‘lawyer’ said he was hired my his wife to represent him. The ‘lawyer’ told him to plead guilty and all he will get is a fine since it was his first offence. He did just that – second mistake.

Without tracing, without knowing one iota about his record, the magistrate slapped him with an 18 month sentence and suspension of his driver’s licence for 5 years! Remember… first offence… no clemency, but after 18 months in jail, the means of your livelihood is gone? Did the ‘offended’ magistracy consider that they were being too harsh or that they could have made a criminal of this guy? The magistrate sent this guy to a place where correctional and rehabilitation systems are non-existent, but getting in contact with the criminal underworld very likely.

I had to admire this guy after hearing his story (he was out after 12 months) that he was able to smile. I would have gone stark raving mad. So when Justice Stanley John criticised the magistrates for being overly harsh – and he gave only two examples – there are thousands more out there as well. And they should not feel offended, but hang their heads in shame. Someone is on to them, that’s why they reacted angrily. I heard today that J. John is retiring and taking up a position in the Bahamas. Our loss, but I understand what your experienced eyes has seen and your intelligence has concluded – time to flee..

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