A federal jury is deliberating the case of a man arrested by law enforcement authorities a few days after Christmas in 2021. The single charge against British Virgin Islands native William Malone is based on maritime law since the encounter, pursuit and arrest took place in U.S. waters.
The charge — failing to heave — could be seen as the seagoing equivalent of rolling past a police traffic stop if his motorized dinghy had been a car driving on a road instead.
However, the Customs and Border Protection officers involved in the Dec. 28, 2021 incident fired a shot at Malone’s outboard motor after he ignored flashing blue lights, sirens and verbal orders to stop. Instead, the defendant sped away from the encounter in Coral Bay, St. John and took off towards the international border in Francis Drake’s Channel, according to court documents.
Chief District Court Judge Robert Molloy presided over a daylong trial on St. Thomas Tuesday. Prosecutors introduced a number of witnesses; the defense did not. Closing arguments were presented on Tuesday afternoon.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Kia Sears said it was up to the government to prove their case in order to win a conviction. She accused Customs officers of sneaking up on her client who, according to reports filed with the agency, was found operating a dinghy in the dark without navigation lights.
Sears said Malone sped away because he did not know who the people in the vessel with the flashing blue lights were. She said her client did not understand why bright flares were being fired in his direction, or why they were telling him to stop, but finally realized they were from law enforcement after they shot the engine.
“Mr. Malone was attacked by (sic) men on a boat. The agents who testified have created an exaggerated story about what they did to stop Mr. Malone,” Sears said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Natasha Baker said Malone fled the encounter because he was arrested by federal authorities while in U.S. waters — in Coral Bay — in 2020. At that time, the defendant was ordered to stay out of the United States for five years. When confronted by authorities on Dec. 28, the prosecutor said, he knew he was in the wrong.
And, Baker said, he tried to run away.
“It’s the same on land; it’s the same on sea, and ladies and gentlemen, it’s your duty to decide if Mr. Malone failed to heave to,” Baker told the jurors.
But during one segment of the trial, with the jury out of the courtroom, Malone allowed the legal teams to argue whether the reports about the prior violation were admissible. The judge allowed a restricted reference only.
To make their case, the prosecutors said the government had to prove that Malone was the owner, master or operator the vessel; that the incident occurred within U.S. jurisdiction; that authorized federal agents ordered Malone to heave to, and that the defendant failed to comply.
If found guilty, Malone could be fined or imprisoned for up to 15 years for violating Title 18, United States Code, Section 2237.