From the Courts
June 25, 2004

Jamaican singer abused?

Jamaican reggae singer “Risto Benji,” who was imprisoned for cocaine possession here last November, is alleging brutality and a violation of his rights by prison officers. {{more}}
“Risto Benji”, whose birth name is Michael Anthony Benjamin, claims he was beaten on Tuesday after another prisoner accused him of taking drugs to the prison following a visit to the nearby court for his appeal hearing.
At the Court House on Tuesday, the dreadlocked “Risto Benjie” complained to the press and lawyers, showing marks on his back and a swelling on the right side of his face, near the ear.
On Wednesday morning, the Jamaican entertainer, with his head clean-shaven, returned to court crying and again complaining.
When “Risto Benjie’s appeal hearing against sentence was called, Vincentian lawyer Richard Williams rose amicus curiae (as a friend of the court) and alleged that the Jamaican reggae singer’s right had been violated.
He told the court, “The reason why I stand in support of Mr. Benjamin’s appeal is that yesterday when I was present in court, Mr. Benjamin was complaining that he was abused, maltreated and beaten by certain prison officers. Mr. Benjamin was displaying certain parts of his body as evidence of abuse”, Williams said.
The lawyer continued his pleading: “Up to yesterday he had long flowing dreadlocks, one of which he now has in his hand, and this morning he was crying and saying that the officers said they would chop off his locks before the Superintendent of Prisons comes. It is clear to me that Mr. Benjamin has suffered a violation to his fundamental right”.
The counsel told Justices of Appeal Brian Alleyne, Albert Redhead and Michael Gordon, Q.C., that the incident served as a reminder of the days when Justice Ian Mitchell “had to write reports with regard to how prisoners should be treated”.
He said he wondered if “the ends of justice would be served” by having Mr. Benjamin return to “a place where his fundamental rights were not guaranteed”.
Williams also stated that “what occurred this morning substantiates claims which he (Risto Benjie) has been making for the past few days”.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Colin Williams, in his reply to the allegations, told the court that he did see Benjamin with all his hair on Tuesday. He added that Benjamin did greet him but did not complain to him directly. He acknowledged that he was aware of the complaint, but that his office had not yet inquired into the matter.
Acting Chief Justice, Brian Alleyne requested an investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, when the prison was contacted Wednesday, a senior officer who investigated the allegation, said that it was part of the prison regulation that once someone is convicted his hair would be cut. But, the prison Superintendent Erik Rodriguez had promised Benjamin that his dreadlocks would not be cut if he behaved himself in prison. The officer confirmed that there were allegations of Benjamin’s beating, but said that Benjamin did get into a lot of arguments at times.
The officer further said that Benjamin’s hair was cut after another prisoner reported that someone had given him drugs to take back to prison.
When asked if there was any evidence that Benjamin had any drug as claimed, the officer said no. When asked if the decision to cut his hair could not have been delayed until the end of his appeal hearing that day, in light of the fact that there was a possibility that his appeal might be allowed by the court, the officer admitted that it was indeed a concern which was bothering the authorities.
Indications are that some officers decided to cut Benjamin’s locks without the sanction of the prison Superintendent.