When 30-year-old Nicholas Antone Benjamin was unable to see his brother at the Oistins Police Station on two occasions he took to his Facebook page and posted “The only people in this island I wish to see kill is EVERY SINGLE POLICE OFFICER!!! EVERY F****** ONE!”
That post which has been making the rounds on social media landed the first time offender from Rock Hall, St Phillip before the island’s Chief Magistrate today charged under the Computer Misuse Act.
Benjamin, a customer service agent, was fined $3,500 in three months for the offence. Failure to pay the money will see him spending six months in prison for using a cellular phone to send the message on July 6 that was menacing in character, intending to cause or was reckless as to whether he caused annoyance, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to members of the Royal Barbados Police Force.
The sentence followed a strong chiding from Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch that such acts will “not be tolerated” and a call by Benjamin’s very own lawyer Michael Lashley, QC, for “a strong warning” to be sent to persons who abuse social media.
The prosecutor Station Sergeant Peter Barrow said Benjamin was arrested after his status and picture were displayed on the post. His phone was also seized and the message was seen with several comments attached to it. He admitted to the offence.
As he sat in the District ‘C’ Magistrates’ Court today Lashley, who represented Benjamin along with attorney-at-law Dayna Taylor-Lavine, said his client was not known to the court and was gainfully employed but was also “profoundly remorseful” as he was an “outstanding” young man.
“He is very apologetic and sorry . . . ,” Lashley said as he urged the Chief Magistrate to give Benjamin a chance as he had a promising future and a “brilliant career” ahead of him.
However, Lashley who was a victim of social media post in the past told the court that a strong message must be sent to perpetrators.
“I am . . . asking the court . . . to send a warning to persons who abuse social media, that it is not there to use to sully a person’s reputation . . . [and] to threaten citizens.
“But this accused man is profoundly remorseful . . . and we ask [for you] to give him this chance and I am asking for a non custodial sentence,” the Queen’s Counsel submitted as he asked the court to temper justice with mercy when imposing a sentence on his client.
Speaking to Benjamin, the Chief Magistrate asked him whether he believed that it was a “good idea” to issue such a statement given the current climate in the country and his line of work which is “intimately connected” to the Internet.
“No matter how frustrated, how angry any of us may feel, social media is not [the place] to issue threats or to wish death on people. Especially when if something should happen to you, the very people that you curse and wish death upon are the only ones who come and help you,” the Chief magistrate stated.
“I find it remarkable that your own attorney who has stood up and spoken . . . so effectively for you who is the cause of you not going to prison, is one of the people who suffered at the hands of the idle and the ignorant on social media and you are neither idle or ignorant,” Birch added.
Under the law, a person found guilty of such a crime could face a fine of up to $50,000 or a year in prison.
“The word has to go out by all available means that this behavior will not be tolerated because this is not what the Internet is built for. It was built for knowledge and enlightenment, not the issuing of threats and wishes for death on others,” the Chief Magistrate said as he imposed the fine which Benjamin must pay by October 25 to avoid going to prison.