Man in stolen police guns, ammo case jailed for over 2 years
Although he is apparently expecting three babies by January 2022, 26-year-old Avi King will miss their birth as he serves two years and eight months in prison for the possession and sale of weapons and ammunition stolen from the armoury at the Georgetown Police station.
King, a resident of Diamond, has been awaiting sentencing since he first appeared at the Serious Offences Court (SOC) on June 21. On that date he wasted no time entering guilty pleas to a whole host of charges, including possession of numerous firearms and ammunition, sale of these, possession of criminal property and burglary. This move would have afforded him an automatic one third subtraction to whatever sentence the court would impose.
There was one charge that King maintained innocence for when he first appeared in court, that was, the possession of a Glock 22 pistol LNL 155. However, in the end he pleaded his guilt to this, but maintained his innocence to the possession of a Glock 22 pistol LNL 151. The prosecution has, as at this Tuesday, withdrawn this charge against him.
This case which, due to its implications for national security, drew national concern, was investigated by Assistant Superintendent of Police(ASP) Oswin Elgin Richards from the Major Crimes Unit(MCU).
A chronology of events during the investigation was compiled by the police.
Firstly, it is noted that the armoury at Georgetown had more guns and ammunition inside than it usually does, as these had been brought along with police further North who evacuated due to the volcanic eruptions at La Soufrière.
On June 2, at 11am, all firearms and ammunition in this armoury were accounted for. On the evening of that day, the sergeant on duty entered the armoury to issue a firearm to a constable. He secured the armoury on leaving, and everything appeared intact. The following day, on the afternoon of Thursday, June 3, he went to the armoury to issue a firearm and the sergeant noticed that a strip of board by the door was raised up, which was unusual. The door was locked, and on unlocking it, the sergeant discovered three Glock pistols, LNL 151, 155, and 144, missing, as well as one M4 Rifle and ammunition.
Investigations were launched thereafter, and statements taken from the officers on duty. During the investigation King became a suspect, and on June 17, a team from the MCU, headed by ASP Richards sought out King, meeting him at the San Souci Learning Resource Centre. They cautioned and arrested him on suspicion of the offences, and he admitted that he committed them.
King told them that on the night of June 2, he was invited to the station by someone, and was handed guns and ammunition. He also said he gave these firearms and ammunition to another person to sell. Further investigations led the police to a cemetery, where an area was pointed out to them concerning a buried M4 Rifle. Unearthed, the rifle was inspected and the number showed that it belonged to the armoury.
At the MCU, King spoke with the ASP Richards, and told him that the seller had given him EC$3200 from the sale of a firearm, and he was to give $3000 of this to another individual. When he gave the other individual $3000, this person apparently gave King EC$150 from this sum.
The results of their investigations, the entirety of which will not be mentioned at this stage, meant that the police were able to recover the Glock LNL 144, and LNL 155; the 305 rounds of .40 ammunition, and the M4 rifle serial number W877775.
Further, King also handed over two firearms to the police that were unrelated to the armoury case.
Counsel Nakita Charles appeared ‘pro bono’ for King and mitigated for him on Tuesday.
She informed the court that King is a graduate of the Georgetown Technical Institute and proficient in electrical installation. He was not employed fully but occasionally picked up construction and electrical jobs.
Charles said “The prisoner is not a man of great means, however, he used his skills to assist the less fortunate in and around his community.”
She revealed that his past conviction is minor and unrelated to the offences for which he was before the court, and therefore “…does not reflect a propensity to commit serious offences.”
“We are all aware of the tremendous negative impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on employment opportunities globally and while it is not an excuse for the prisoner’s conduct, his reality is that the pandemic was suffocating him financially,” the counsel submitted, “Employment opportunities were virtually non-existent and his inability to provide for his dependents consumed him.”
He has a three-year-old child and “he’s expecting three babies by January”. He lives with his parents, and his father is ill and unable to work, while his mother works three days a week.
“He is the primary provider for his present girlfriend who is unemployed and was abandoned by her family due to her pregnancy,” Charles indicated.
King’s monetary situation apparently frustrated him, and “it caused him to disregard, or to not think of all the possible grave consequences of his actions. He directed his mind solely to the financial benefits he would gain if the venture was successful.”
Charles said that he is remorseful and ashamed of his actions, and “He is now faced with the reality that because of his conduct he more than likely will miss the birth of his children, and will be absent during a part, or maybe all of their formative years.”
His remorse was apparent in his guilty pleas, and co-operation with the police, she posited.
The lawyer asked that the sentence the court imposes, “be one that is not unduly severe so as to preclude the prisoner, with the support of his family, from making changes to his life in order to be a better example to his child and his expected children.”
Prosecutor Sergeant Renrick Cato noted that to King’s credit, he handed over weapons to the police that had nothing to do with the investigation, and he also admitted his guilt. But setting aside this, the court has to consider the offences.
“I will go straight to the prohibited weapon, that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment on summary conviction and your honour that weapon, as explained by the gazetted ballistic expert..” Cato noted, “semi-automatic and automatic.”
The expert had said that standing from the road outside the court, located just beyond the George McIntosh Market in Paul’s Avenue, a bullet from that gun would reach the sea.
“There’s also quite a number of ammunition: 305 rounds of ammunition,” he commented.
“These offences caused an alarm in the state of St Vincent and the Grenadines, because it was a police station,” Cato submitted, and “the property of the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Also considering the influence King had in the sale of the weapons, and the number of offences, the prosecutor asked, “the court to let the sentence be a true reflection of the serious nature of the offences.”
Firearm offences are prevalent in the country, whether it be possession, or it’s use in the commission of all sorts of offences, he also pointed out.
“The court must take into consideration to protect the law abiding citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” he concluded.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne, said that both submissions had “very credible points.” She focused on the fact that the defendant was still young at 26 years, and the Higher Court has instructed on the sentencing of young offenders.
“Yes we want to have a measure of deterrent, but we also want that to be tempered with the possibility of rehabilitation because even if custodial sentence were to be imposed, he still has many, many more years ahead of him where he could be of use and value to the citizens of this country and as we heard, he is a father and an expecting father of children, so he needs to be able to contribute to their lives and to the lives of his other family members,” Browne said.
She also commented, “…You cannot escape the fact that yes, as the prosecutor said, this was a matter which caused national concern, there was a police station involved.” However, “…He was extremely co-operative with the police, and as a result of that, as counsel said in mitigation, these items were recovered before we heard of any damage or harm being caused in the country.”
The court also has to balance that firearm offences are very serious.
After standing down the matter for a while, the magistrate returned with her sentence. She began with varying starting points for the offences based on the guidelines, and then considered the aggravating and mitigating features of the offence. From this she deducted four months.
She then considered the aggravating and mitigating features of the offender, and subtracted a further six months. And then added the one third discount.
Ultimately for having in his possession, between June 2 and 18, at Diamond, criminal property to wit EC$3,200 in cash, the court ordered forfeiture.
For the possession of Glock 22 Pistols serial numbers LNL 155, and LNL 144 without a license, between June 1 and 18 at Georgetown; King was sentenced to two years imprisonment on each count.
For the sale of one Glock 22 pistol, serial number LNL 155, and one magazine with 15 rounds of .40mm ammunition to one ‘Pet’ of Sion Hill between June 2 and 17, at Sion Hill, and sold one Glock 22, serial number LNL 144, and one magazine with 15 rounds of .40mm ammunition to a Layou resident; King was sentenced to eight months in prison.
For the possession of the M4 Rifle, Serial Number W877775, a prohibited weapon, without the authorisation of the Minister, between June 1 and 4 at Georgetown, King will spend two years and eight months incarcerated.
For between June 1 and 4, at Georgetown, entering the Georgetown police station as a trespasser with intent to commit an offence, to wit theft, King was sentenced to two years in prison.
For possession of 305 rounds of .40mm ammunition on June 17; the sentence was two years imprisonment.
All sentences will run concurrently, meaning the longest term King will spend is two years and eight months.
An older woman could be observed crying as they took King away from the court’s premises.