The 69-year-old half-blind man who pointed an unloaded, unlicensed gun at a man who he mistook for someone he said had stolen his phone has been jailed for two years and nine months.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne handed down the sentence on the man, John Felix Bristol, of Diamond, on Tuesday at the Serious Offences Court, in Kingstown, one day after he pleaded guilty to the charge.
Bristol pleaded guilty to charges that on Feb. 26, 2023, at Diamond, he:
1. had in his possession one black and grey Walther 4.5mm pistol, serial number unknown without a license issued under the Firearms Act; and,
2. did assault Arnold Baptiste, 24, of Riley, with intent to commit an offence.
At the arraignment, on Monday, the court was surprised on seeing footage of how Bristol had wrestled with Baptiste, who has tried to wrest the gun from him after Bristol pulled it from his waist and pointed it at Baptiste.
Prosecutor Station Sergeant of Police, Renrick Cato had asked the court to adjourned the sentencing to Tuesday so that he could make a submission on sentencing.
On Tuesday, Cato began with Bristol’s statement that he pointed the gun at Baptiste “to frighten him off”.
The prosecutor said that long ago, someone might have said, “‘I pointed the knife at him to frighten him off.’
“Now, it is gun,” Cato said, adding that he has regard for Bristol’s age, which the police have confirmed.
“… but you cannot be 69 and walking in the streets of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with a firearm in your waist without a licence, entering a public place, a supermarket, with a firearm in your waist, indicating that you have eye problems and you met a man who looks like — looks like — someone who stole a phone from you.”
The prosecutor noted that Bristol did not call the police or simply confront the man about the phone.
“… but during the confrontation, you pulled a gun out of your waist and pointed that gun at this man. It could have been worse,” Cato told the court.
“Suppose this man (Baptiste) had a bad heart? Suppose he had a licensed firearm? Suppose there was someone in the supermarket with a licensed firearm? We all saw the footage and saw the effect that had on the virtual complainant,” Cato told the court.
He said that when Bristol came to court he had to be assisted by a police officer as Bristol “was walking a particular way as though he cannot walk on his own.
“Having looked at the footage of what occurred …, it is not a true reflection of the way the defendant would like us to believe that he is incapable of moving along properly,” the prosecutor said.
Cato said Bristol had “put up a good resistance against a man who is well-built, who is much younger than him. And he himself admitted it — that he is a strong man for age 69.”
The prosecutor noted that the offence of possession of unlicensed firearm and other firearm-related offences are become more and more popular in SVG.
“On a weekly basis, this court is being faced with that challenge of dealing with those matters. It always boils down to the sentencing of the court. Is it strong enough to cause deterrence for people to think?” Cato said.
“Based on the facts and circumstance of this matter, I am asking this court to let the sentence the court chooses to impose to be a true reflection of the serious nature of the offence, and I have no doubt in my mind that the most appropriate sentence the court should impose should be a custodial.”
He noted that Bristol said he has difficulty seeing in one eye.
“That is an issue that can be attended to while he is in prison. I am aware that there is a doctor assigned to the prison so that matter can be addressed,” Cato said.
He said Bristol’s eye problems is one of the reasons why he should have considered his action and say to himself, “‘I have a medical condition with my eyes so I cannot be committing offences that warrant a term of imprisonment.’”
The prosecutor said it is unacceptable for any member of the public to reason as Bristol did and confront with a gun — loaded or unloaded — someone who one suspects might have stolen something in the past.
“That cannot be the way of thinking. If you want to have a firearm, there is a way of going about it. And you always find persons who do not have a licensed firearm want the whole world to know that they have a firearm. They will brandish it publicly so that everyone could see I have a firearm,” Cato said.
He said the footage showed that people were in the supermarket doing business while Bristol and Baptiste were fighting for control of the gun.
“Customers who were present, they, too, could have been affected. Supposed they had a bad heart, too? So, I am asking the court to take what said into consideration as it relates to the sentence,” the prosecutor said.
In handing down her sentence, the chief magistrate noted that the sentence has to be in accordance with the sentencing guidelines.
“I am sure you realise the seriousness of the offence and this offence, when I look at the options given, this firearm was carried in a public place. That puts it in the highest tier with regards to offences of this nature for seriousness,” Browne said.
She said that in terms of the consequence of the offence, Bristol’s intention was to frighten or injure and that puts it at the highest category.
The court established a starting point of 60% of the maximum sentence — seven years in prison, a fine of EC$20,000, or both.
“So, you can be fined and confined,” the chief magistrate explained.
She said the aggravating features of the offence was that the possession was to frighten or perhaps harm in the circumstances.
“You are carrying it, the court could infer, for revenge,” she said, adding, “This is quite an aggravating factor…
“Listening to your mitigation, they broke your house twice and you lived in the bush and need to have it, so you have had it for a period of time. You can’t just to that. Get a licence.”
She noted that Bristol initially attempted to blame Baptiste for the firearm and admitted possession only after the footage was shown.
The court also said the fact that the supermarket was full of people shopping was also aggravating.
Browne spoke of the panic and the fright evidence in Baptiste’s reaction.
“It was terrible. And he trying to shield other persons doing business with the establishment and holding it away.
And then, the fight and resistance you put up. You are a very strong 69-year-old man, very fit for this much young man, much bigger in stature, all those are very aggravating.”
She said that while people in court might have snickered a bit on seeing the footage, the offence was very serious.
She said the mitigating feature of the offence is that the firearm was recovered.
“And we are thankful that PC Alexis Richards was present at the time to be able to intervene and take the firearm and call for assistance because this could have gone very wrong,” she said.
The chief magistrate said the aggravating features of the offence outweighed the mitigating and the court added four months to the sentence.
The court found no aggravating feature of the offender, but said that his age was mitigating, although he was very fit for his age, and said his only problem is when he has to step down because of his glaucoma.
In these circumstances, the mitigating featured outweighed the aggravating and six months was deducted, bringing the sentence to four years.
The court granted Bristol a full one-third discount for his early guilty plea, leaving him to serve a sentence of two years and nine months for the firearms.
He was sentenced to six months for assault, to run concurrently.