(CMR) The Crown is expected to wrap up its case early next week in the manslaughter and child cruelty trial of Larry Levers and Michael Anthony Stewart. During the past several weeks they have called numerous witnesses hoping to prove the accused men are criminally responsible for the drowning death 14-year-old Risco Batten in November 2015.
On Tuesday Richard Matthews, QC called the last prosecution witness, CAYS Foundation former General Manager, Sydney Williams. Explosive testimony over the past several weeks highlighted numerous inefficiencies at the boy's home during the time of the incident that has resulted in the two senior support workers being charged.
Several CAYS Foundation managers took the stand and at times became combative as they denied any personal or professional liability in the drowning death of the teen.
Earlier in the trial, the jury heard from Bonaventure Home manager, Jennifer Leach-Tippetts who at the time would have directly supervised the two men now on trial. Members of the jury learned that she held the men in high regard and inf act trusted the more senior worker, Larry Levers wholeheartedly. Levers worked for ten years at the facility and also enjoyed a good rapport with the young boys he was in charge of.
The defense attorneys sought to highlight that her major concern after the incident was to protect herself from liability and possible criminal prosecution. It was disclosed that the CAYS Foundation provided both her and Sydney Williams with lawyers before their police interviews.
On the stand, she admitted that she refused to answer any questions for fear of incriminating herself on the advice of her government supplied lawyer. She also had the benefit of being able to prepare a statement before being interrogated by the police in relation to the drowning death.
However, neither defendants were provided any assistance from their employers as they stood with the most to lose.
It was revealed that as the manager at the facility she had the day to day “hands-on” responsibility for operating the Bonaventure Home. She shared that there was no policy in place to access the children's ability to swim. However, now upon reflecting on the events, she agreed with defense attorneys that it would have been a common-sense approach to actually have a policy in place.
She further testified that she did not inquire about the staff's ability to swim either and had praised the two men now on trial for their longstanding unblemished work history with the boys at the facility. At one point staff were giving a brief water safety course by her boyfriend at the time, Steve Tippetts. However, she never inquired about their ability to swim. In fact, she shared that she felt confident that the few procedures they claim to have in place “kept the residents safe.”
There were discrepancies highlighted between what she said in her prepared police statement about procedures and what actually transpired at the home. She had stated that it was a requirement that staff indicates precisely where they would be taking the boys for fishing excursions. However, it turns out that information was not accurate and there was no policy at the home that the location be recorded at all.
She was also aware that Michael Stewart had some sort of a back injury and was receiving treatment for it at the time of the incident. At one point during cross-examination, Tippetts appeared to be overcome with emotion and became teary-eyed.
The last crown witness called on Tuesday was former general manager, Sydney Williams who provided his statement via video link. Williams was to originally give live testimony but left the jurisdiction days before the trial was set to begin. His contract with CAYS was not renewed at the end of last year.
Becoming argumentative at times and refusing to answer defense questions Williams stated that when he arrived in the position there was no policy for accessing anyone's ability to swim. He stated, “I didn't ask anyone and no one asked me.”
Despite his job description explicitly stating part of his responsibilities was to implement a safety policy he shared he did not do so. He confirmed:
“I didn't see any (policy upon taking up the post) and did not implement any”.
When pressed further as to why he ever thought that staff taking children out for water-related activities should be able to swim he defensively replied that his superiors did not do so, and he saw no reason why this should fall squarely on his shoulders. He retorted that his bosses didn't do it:
“I used directions from the board and ministry as to what would be needed. I was never given those instructions by my superiors. The ministry needs to take responsibility for my oversight – I won't take responsibility if they didn't do it or it was an oversight … Chief Officers before me, board members – no one saw it as a priority so why would I show up and institute this policy they had not been doing for 15 years?
He also testified that he was provided a lawyer by the CAYS Foundation and that the board appeared more concerned about their own liability than him. He outright refused to take any personal responsibility for the incident.
At one point he refused to answer questions from Larry Lever's defense attorney stating that
“I'm not stupid, don't talk to me like I'm stupid”.
Courtenay Griffiths, QC eventually put to him that this was the fourth child that has died in a facility he was the manager at.
The trial continues on Monday with defense attorneys expected to submit no-case submissions for the Judge to consider after the Crown wraps up.