Law & the Courts

The Tragedy of Scott Hapgood

Gavin “Scott” Hapgood speaks to reporters outside a courthouse in Anguilla, August 22, 2019. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)
Who in their right mind would believe that an ordinary man from Connecticut would take the life of a hotel maintenance worker for no reason?

When UBS banker and father of three Scott Hapgood was arrested and charged with manslaughter in Anguilla, I was one of the first and most vocal observers to sound an alarm. I declared Hapgood an American hero for defending his life and the lives of his young daughters when confronted by an armed attacker inside his hotel room while on vacation.

From day one, it was clear to me that he was no murderer but instead a man forced to do the unthinkable when unexpectedly forced into a literal fight to survive. After all, who in his right mind would believe that an affluent, family-oriented man from Connecticut would decide to take the life of a hotel maintenance worker in Anguilla — in front of his own children, mind you — for no reason?

Unfortunately for Hapgood, since that day, he has been victimized repeatedly, and it continues still.

He was victimized for the first time when Kenny Mitchel showed up unexpectedly at Hapgood’s hotel room, pretending to fix his sink. Once gaining access to the room, Mitchel violently stabbed, bit, and robbed Hapgood.

Hapgood was victimized for the second time when authorities in Anguilla denied him bail and threw him into prison when he was clearly guilty of nothing more than defending his life and those of his children.

Today, Hapgood is being victimized yet again by being forced to stand trial in a foreign territory with an ill-prepared judiciary, even though a cursory examination of the facts demonstrates that such a process is needless.

In the months since the news broke of Hapgood’s ill-fated Anguillan vacation, more facts have come to light that should have exonerated him fully and should have lead to the charges being dropped. Mitchel, the man who attacked him, is hardly the sainted figure that his friends and family members have described to reporters. At the time of the attack on Hapgood, Mitchel was actually out on bail, having been arrested for allegedly raping the mother of his child.

As if a history of charges for violent criminal behavior were not damning enough, a long-overdue toxicology report that was widely shared in the press showed Mitchel was under the influence of a dangerous mix of cocaine, marijuana, and other substances.

This should call into question whether Hapgood was even responsible for the death of his attacker or if Mitchel simply died following extensive physical exertion while high on what Hapgood’s representatives have described as a “lethal cocktail” of illegal drugs.

Despite knowing all of this, authorities in Anguilla appear committed to pursuing charges against the American family man. There has been widespread anger on the island from day one, including public demonstrations following Hapgood’s arrest. The move to proceed with legal prosecution, in the face of such clear facts, smacks of political motivation aimed at appeasing a populace out to avenge the death of one of their own.

Also, a fragile economy that depends upon tourism probably feels that it cannot afford to have the island’s safety called into question. Better to blame Hapgood than for tourists to avoid traveling to Anguilla out of fear that someone on the staff of the five-star resort where their family is staying could turn out to be a drugged-up armed robber who was just set free from the jailhouse following an arrest for rape.

That Hapgood chose to return even once to Anguilla after his experience there — let alone multiple times for various legal proceedings — defies logic. I cannot understand why Hapgood would jeopardize his future freedom and provide even a modicum of legitimacy to a deeply flawed judicial process. This could reportedly take years to play out on the tiny island, which apparently has only a single magistrate and appears largely unprepared to oversee a major trial such as this.

Every return trip to Anguilla for this sad charade makes it harder for Hapgood to credibly challenge the fairness of the process there, which should absolutely be in question. As television stations broadcast his arrival and departure for court appearances and air footage of Hapgood and his team at press conferences and giving media interviews, you can be certain that prosecutors in Anguilla are hanging on every word and likely hoping they can further strengthen their case against him.

Why play into the hands of prosecutors in Anguilla, who seem hellbent on throwing the book at Hapgood rather than doing the right thing and withdrawing the charges immediately? Why play their game at all as opposed to drawing a hard line and refusing to be further victimized?

Hapgood and his legal team have repeatedly stated that everyone wants the same thing: justice. But how could that possibly be true when Anguilla has dealt with him unjustly time and again? Justice is not the same as vengeance, and Hapgood should do all he can to avoid becoming a sacrificial lamb meant to appease a restless Anguillan public. Such an outcome would be the latest in an ongoing series of tragedies.


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