By Aaron Humes, Freelance Reporter
Magistrate Hettie Mae Stuart is to decide next Wednesday, April 15, on a charge of loitering in a public place filed against radio personality and activist for the Peoples United Party (PUP), Albert Vaughan, during protests by workers for Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) in August of 2014.
While covering the arrest of 41 workers from the company for an illegal public gathering and municipal littering charges at the Queen Street Police Station for PUP organ, Vibes Radio, Vaughan, 55, was also arrested.
Trial in the case began two weeks ago and on Thursday Vaughan’s attorneys, Kareem Musa and Kevin Arthurs, filed a submission of no case to answer on behalf of their client.
According to Musa, Vaughan was lawfully entitled to be present in front of the police station as a reporter, covering the protest as other media houses did, and that he was specifically targeted in a political witchhunt.
He submitted that Vaughan’s right to work under Section 15 of the Constitution might have been violated by his detention; while a group of persons, which included media personnel were warned specifically of the possible violation, Vaughan, who was among them, was never personally addressed, and was walking away from the scene when he was picked up.
Arresting officer, P.C. Lynton Broaster admitted, in cross-examination, that he did not personally speak with Vaughan, and did not learn until he was being brought in that he was a reporter. He also admitted that he did not follow up on who Vaughan worked for and that if Vaughan had showed him his identification he would have let him go.
But P.C. Broaster also claimed that he had seen Vaughan shouting that he would not leave the area earlier on, though he did not put it in his statement.
P.C. Cashman Munnings testified that when he was leaving the police station a second time along with fellow officer P.C. Broaster, it was then that he saw Vaughan walking away, and that he did not speak with them.
Therefore, Musa submitted, Vaughan could not have satisfied the charge under Section 98 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, which requires that the person specifically refuses to leave under order of the police, or a shopkeeper in instances where the accused is in front of a shop.
Legal definitions of loitering according to law practice are unconstitutionally vague, especially in instances like this, Musa said. He added that even after a warning such as the one Broaster gave, persons with a right to stay, including the press, cannot be moved. The media, he stated, operates in the streets in the process of collecting stories.
The prosecuting court officer will reply in writing by Monday, April 13.
The charges against the BML workers were eventually dropped after BML, the City Council and the Government of Belize reached agreement on a transition out of the City’s contract with BML, which was accomplished in January.