American college student jailed in Cayman Islands over COVID-19 quarantine violation

An 18-year-old American college student is learning the hard way about following the laws of a foreign country. Skylar Mack pleaded guilty to violating Cayman Island’s COVID-19 quarantine law. She was put in jail on Tuesday.

Mack, a pre-med student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, arrived in the Cayman Islands on November 27. She, like any other visitor, was supposed to undergo a two-week quarantine as mandated by the government. The government electronically tracks anyone who arrives in the British Caribbean territory. Just two days after her arrival, though, on Nov. 29, she broke quarantine. On that day her boyfriend picked her up to attend a jet-ski race. Her boyfriend, 24-year-old Vanjae Ramgeet, was to compete in the race. He is a resident of the Cayman Islands.

Ms. Mack removed her geo-fencing bracelet and left her residence to attend the water competition. She clearly made the decision to violate her quarantine order. Mack and Ramgeet were at the event for more than seven hours without social distancing or wearing masks. Both were detained by police at the scene. Ramgeet was charged with aiding and abetting his girlfriend. Both were placed in a government quarantine facility for a 14-day quarantine, which ended on December 15. They both pleaded guilty.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020, the Cayman Islands Government has prioritized the safety of its residents and their protection from the global COVID-19 pandemic. To accomplish this goal the Government employed stringent isolation and social distancing policies,” the Cayman Islands Government told PEOPLE in a statement.

“Anyone wishing to enter the islands is required to quarantine in an approved facility, or at residence using monitoring technology . . . Breaches of quarantine may result in prosecution and penalties of up to $10,000 KYD [approximately $12,195 USD] and two years’ imprisonment,” the statement says.

The original ruling from a judge was for the couple to perform 40 hours of community service and pay a $4,400 fine. Also, Ramgeet was ordered to a two-month curfew that starts at 7:00 p.m. The island’s prosecution appealed this punishment, though, arguing it was too lenient on them, it wouldn’t deter others thinking of violating quarantine orders. A higher court ruled in favor of the prosecutors. When their quarantine concluded on December 15, they were imprisoned.

“These offenses should have been met with far more stringent measures,” Moran said while appearing before the Grand Court on December 14. “When it comes to a matter of deterrence, the sentences imposed are likely to have little to no effect on other like-minded individuals.”

“There is nothing exceptional about either defendant that should have warranted the sentence imposed by the lower court,” Moran said.

The attorney for both Mack and Ramgeet, Jonathan Hughes, argues their sentences are too harsh, especially since both are first time offenders with no history of unlawful behavior. The repercussions of Mack’s bad behavior extend to her family. Her father is a professional jet-ski rider who has now lost sponsorships over the matter.

“There is no way that it can be right that a custodial sentence is imposed for a first-time offense on an 18-year-old defendant, who entered an early guilty plea,” said Hughes, noting that he believes his clients’ mistakes were due to “youthful ignorance and selfishness.”

“Ms. Mack has paid her fine in full from her savings, which resulted in a significant portion of her funds being depleted,” he continued. “She has received hate mail, so far as to say even death threats. This has even impacted her father, who is also a professional jet-ski rider and has now lost sponsorship because of it.”

Ramgeet was stripped of his victory at the jet ski event, and was made to return his prize money and trophy. He was also required to write a formal apology to the Cayman Islands Watercraft Association, and will not be allowed to compete in the first few races of 2021.

Their punishment does seem harsh to Americans. Americans who violate local coronavirus guidelines usually receive fines, though some business owners have been arrested. Those stories are the exception, not widespread. The Cayman Islands is an autonomous British Overseas Territory. Visitors are expected to abide by its laws. The Cayman Islands’ legal system is based on English common law, locally enacted statutes, and Orders-in-Council.

How was an 18-year-old college student allowed into the island country in the first place? Cayman Islands puts a premium on minimizing the impact of the COVID-19 virus. All airports in the Cayman Islands have been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic. They are closed to international leisure and non-essential travel until October 1, 2020. I doubt that attending her boyfriend’s jet-ski competition would be viewed as essential travel by most people. There is a strong whiff of arrogance and entitlement to this whole story. The two are the first to be sentenced under an amended law targeting COVID-19 violators. The original law called for a $2,400 fine and up to six months in prison. The new law calls for a $12,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

I feel for the young woman’s situation – in jail in a foreign country. She’s a pre-med student with a goal of being a doctor, a dream she’s had since she was a young child according to her family. She should have known better than to make the decision she made to violate the law during a pandemic. Making bad decisions and learning from them is part of growing up and we’ve all been there. She’ll learn the hard way about visiting a foreign country and abiding by its laws. The Cayman Islands has a population of nearly 62,000 people. There have been more than 300 coronavirus cases and two deaths.

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