BUSINESSMAN Everton “Beachy Stout” McDonald remained in a prisoner dock in a Home Circuit court room in Kingston on Monday morning while lawyers, police and others scampered for safety as a 5.6-magnitude earthquake shook the island.
Beachy Stout and his co-accused Oscar Barnes are facing trial for the July 20, 2020 murder of Tonia McDonald, who was the businessman’s wife.
While lawyers and others inside the court room awaited the judge’s arrival for the continuation of the trial, the walls and furniture vibrated heavily. As people dashed for the exit of the courtroom trying to force themselves through a narrow doorway all at once, Beachy Stout stayed put in the dock watching the proceedings.
Police personnel in the courtroom also sought haven, but immediately after the shaking subsided, cops rushed to handcuff Beachy Stout, before whisking him out of the room.
Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, who was in another court room, told journalists that he reacted to the tremor by going under furniture.
“My reaction was to get down. I was going under the bench in the court because that is what we are told to do. You are told to get under the table or under the doorway. The attorneys were picking up and I was telling them to get under the desks and tables. This is certainly the most significant one I have felt for a very long time. What it does is reinforce the need for us to have our disaster drills in place. This was a real-time experience and there are still some things we need to work out, so we will be reviewing that and preparing to handle things better going forward,” Sykes said. He added that when simulation drills are being conducted, often, people don’t take them seriously, but Monday’s earthquake taught them an important lesson.
Operations at the Supreme Court were suspended after the earthquake but should resume today, once there is confirmation from experts that the building is safe.
“The building is supposed to be checked for structural damage to ensure we don’t compromise the safety of the staff and the integrity of the building. I would imagine that the fire services would be stretched due to the magnitude of the earthquake,” said the chief justice. “What we have decided to do is have the staff secure the records, collect their things then exit the building,” he added.
Attorney-at-law Deborah Martin said that more must be done to ensure that people who work within the courts do so in a safe environment. She said that while everyone else was safely outside in the courtyard, prisoners were still locked in their holding areas.
“It was alarming and I could see the distress on everybody’s face. I saw evidence of [material from] ceiling falling and it struck me that there were a lot of measures in place for the security of prisoners, witnesses and staff, but we have to consider that and the limits that it places on the security of occupants.
“In an event like today, we came out of the court room and there was nowhere to go. We all had to run to particular points to get out but they were closed for obvious security reasons. The buildings are very well-built but everything was shaking,” said Martin.
Attorney Mikael Lorne, who was engaged in a trial, said: “I was wondering if I should run under the door jamb, but at the same time while the place was shaking it was like you can’t even move. I believe we should have more drills. As much as we take them for granted, it shows that nature has no consideration for time and for place,” the attorney said.