Cayman jails US college student in coronavirus case

A US college student and her boyfriend have been sentenced to four months in prison in the Cayman Islands for violating strict COVID-19 measures following a recent ruling that will be appealed, their attorney said yesterday.

Skylar Mack, 18, of Georgia, and Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, of the Cayman Islands, have been in prison since Tuesday, when the ruling was issued. They had both pleaded guilty, but their attorney, Jonathon Hughes, said he will argue for a less severe sentence next week.

“They’re two young people who have never been in trouble before,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “This is the first time they’ve had interaction with police, the courts, and prison.”

Mack, who is enrolled as a pre-med student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, arrived in the Cayman Islands on November 27 and was supposed to undergo a two-week quarantine as mandated by the Government, which electronically tracks anyone who arrives in the British Caribbean territory. However, she broke quarantine on November 29 when her boyfriend picked her up to attend a water sports event, Hughes said.

After their arrest, a judge ruled the couple had to provide 40 hours of community service and pay a $4,400 fine. In addition, Ramgeet was ordered to a two-month curfew that would start at 7:00 pm. But the prosecution appealed, arguing the punishment was unduly lenient and would not deter other possible violators. A higher court decided in favour of prosecutors, ruling on December 15 that the couple be imprisoned immediately.

The Cayman Compass newspaper reported that Judge Roger Chapple said during Tuesday’s sentencing that the decision to violate safety measures was born of “selfishness and arrogance”, adding in its report that Mack spent seven hours out in public, without a face mask or social distancing.

“This was entirely deliberate and planned, as evidenced by her desire to switch her wristband the day before to a looser one that she was then able to remove,” he was quoted as saying, referring to the electronic tracking device.

Hughes said the sentence is the first of its kind, adding that Mack’s family is concerned: “They’re worried for her because she’s in prison in a foreign country on her own. While this is something she brought on herself, it’s very distressing for her.”

The couple have been together for seven months. Hughes said he doesn’t know how they met. He noted that Ramgeet is a competitive jet skier like Mack’s father.

The girl’s grandmother, Jeanne Mack, told the AP that she reached out to US President Donald Trump and received an e-mail from a staffer saying the White House would look into the matter.

The two are the first to be sentenced under an amended law targeting violators of COVID-19 restriction measures. The original law called for a $2,400 fine and up to six months in prison, while the recently amended law calls for a $12,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

Under the original law, a Canadian couple found guilty of violating the restriction measures was ordered to pay a $1,200 fine each.

The Cayman Islands, a territory of nearly 62,000 people, has reported more than 300 novel coronavirus cases and two deaths.

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