Groog leaves court again
Groog leaves court again

Christian missionary Jason James Grogg who recently got entangled with the law in Dominica, has been denied bail.

The 44-year-old USA citizen recently appeared before Magistrate Pearl Williams on eight customs charges after paying a $25,000 fine to the court.

Two days after Grogg was released from prison following his payment of a fine for possessing a firearm and ammunition, he was intercepted at the Douglas Charles Airport on May 4, 2023, while en route to Barbados.

Eight charges were later preferred against him. He appeared in court on May 8, 2023, before Magistrate Michael Laudat, who recused himself from the case since he had previously presided over the police matter.

The matter was adjourned, and the following day, May 9, 2023, Grogg appeared before Magistrate Pearl Williams, where two of the eight charges were read to him.

He pleaded not guilty to both charges of false declaration of a Toyota Dyna Truck on March 8, 2023, at the Woodbridge Bay Port in Fond Cole as well as falsely declaring Custom declaration of several rounds of ammunition, a firearm, and two body armour vests.

The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Sherma Dalrymple, requested an adjournment to amend the remaining charges before being read to the accused.

Flight Risk

When the issue of bail arose, Dalrymple objected to bail because the accused was a flight risk and urged the court to consider the penalty clauses for the offences for which the accused was charged.

She posited it was not in the public's interest to grant bail to the accused as one of the charges regarding firearms and ammunition.

However, defence attorney Jilane Prevost, who represents Grogg guided by Julien Prevost, argued that it was in the public's interest to grant bail to their client.

According to her, the substantive matter relating to the firearm charges has already been dealt with by the criminal court, and public confidence relies not only on public safety but on the due process of the law.

Prevost contended to remand her client to Dominica State Prison further would be an abuse of process since he was incarcerated for 17 days awaiting sentencing for the police charges.

After submission from both the prosecution and defence, Magistrate Williams remanded Grogg at the Stock Farm Prison, pending her decision on the bail application on May 11, 2023. More Charges

When the matter returned to court that day, the remaining charges were read to him.

On the third summary charge, it is alleged that on September 5, 2023, at Woodbridge Bay, Fond Cole, Grogg did cause to be submitted to the Comptroller of Customs, false Customs Declaration as it pertained to goods being imported for and on behalf of the charitable organization Feed My Sheep (FMS).

Grogg pleaded not guilty to that charge

On the five indictable complaints of customs duty evasion, he was not required to enter a plea as the matter is expected to be heard at the High Court before a Judge and jury.

The charges state, on April 17, 2023, at Belfast, Grogg did have in his possession a specific firearm and ammunition, which is chargeable with duty and has not been paid.

He is further accused of attempting to defraud the Customs Department of its revenue for having in his possession goods imported with a duty-free concession granted to the non-profit organization "Feed My Sheep", which is chargeable with duty, which has not been paid, with the intent to defraud the Customs department of its revenue, to wit $1,284.33 with a Customs value of $3,075.00 as well another quantity amounting to $9,859.13 with a Customs value of $17,200.00 as declared on Customs declaration C 32672.

The final indictable complaint stated, on April 17, 2023, at Belfast, Grogg had in his possession one Toyota Dyna Truck which is chargeable with duty, which has not been paid, with the intent to defraud the Customs Department of its revenue, to wit $44,603.41 having a Customs value of $59,266.46.

After the charges were read, Magistrate Williams informed the court that she had not reached a decision on the bail application and requested further submissions from the defence and the prosecution.

The bail application hearing was adjourned to May 12, 2023, whilst the application for consolidation of the charges was set for June 8, 2023.

The presiding magistrate has since informed the court that she will conduct the trial of the summary matter but will set the indictable matters before another magistrate.

On May 12, attorney-at-law Sargent Allen Alexander put forward two grounds for their objection.

According to him, Grogg was not entitled to bail as a right based on section four of the bail act, and the accused was a flight risk. He averred on the day Grogg was intercepted at the airport, there is no evidence to show that he expected to return to Dominica.

As such, Alexander argued, the prosecution has substantial grounds to believe that should Grogg be released on bail, he will fail to surrender to the court's custody for his trial.

He said the accused man has no ties to Dominica as he is a missionary worker who is not gainfully employed.

However, he advised should the court be minded to grant bail, he pointed to section 8 subsection 2, the defendant's requirement to produce security for his release.

In response to the prosecution's application, defence attorney Jilane Prevost told the court her client's previous conviction stemmed from the same facts, circumstances, evidence, dates and witnesses as the customs proceedings. Therefore, it was "abusive" for the prosecution to reference his past conviction as a reason for objection to bail.

Cooperative and Forthcoming

Prevost further stated, reflecting on the defendant's conduct during his procedural history, that he has been cooperative, forthcoming and open with all law enforcement authorities.

"He has been living in Dominica with his wife and four children in Belfast since 2021 and has no running with the law before his conviction on May 2; therefore, there is no reason to believe that Mr Grogg will commit any other offences whilst on bail."

She continued, based on the Bail Act, there is no reason shown by the prosecution why the defendant should be kept in custody for his protection or the protection of the community.

"On the issue of public interest, it is in the public's interest to know that a person who has just been convicted of an offence cannot be put in double jeopardy for the same facts and evidence of his criminal conviction and held on remand before he is proven guilty."

Adding, "it is in the public's interest to know, if a person allegedly offends several laws they will be punished in totality and not passed around to take blows from various divisions in tandem…and the public must be assured that cooperating with law enforcement will not be met with punishment but rather rewarded with trust and confidence by law enforcement so they will continue to cooperate with the proceedings."

Prevost further argued that Grogg has sufficient community ties in Dominica to prove he is not a flight risk.

However, Magistrate Williams held a different view in handing down her decision. According to her, the court was not satisfied that there was cause to release Grogg on bail.

"He has only been residing in Dominica for two years, his children are all US citizens who are homeschooled so that they can leave at any time, and he has no established job in Dominica apart from voluntary work."

She said the public disaffiliation by FMS to Mr Grogg does not reflect the community ties that his attorneys spoke of; hence the mission he came to Dominica for has ended.

For these reasons, bail was denied, and the accused was remanded into custody at the Dominica State Prison.

-By Ronalda Luke