A case of mistaken identity is under investigation.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is trying to figure out how a broken BB pistol was mistaken for a lethal barrelled gun.
The mistake caused Rhondell Powery of West Bay to be charged with possession of an unlicensed firearm. He was facing 10 years in prison if found guilty.
But just as his case was to begin Monday morning, the Crown amended a charge against him to reflect the fact that, legally, the gun was an imitation firearm.
He pleaded guilty to possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offence of threatening violence. He was fined and ordered to attend anger management counselling.
The result of the police investigation could help determine whether future firearms evidence is presented in court by an experienced local officer or an overseas expert.
Chief Superintendent John Jones said police will look at case papers and the role of the investigators to find out what went wrong so that it doesn’t happen again.
The Crown Counsel said the initial report on the gun indicated it was a lethal barrelled weapon, fired by means of a carbon dioxide cylinder.
The gun was later sent to a lab in the US where it was found unable to be fired because the seating device for the carbon dioxide cylinder was broken.
Mr. Jones said he was keeping an open mind about what will happen following his investigation. Appropriate action will be taken if misconduct is found, he said.
He said he would not rule out discipline.
Review teams acknowledge that officers are human and mistakes are made, Mr. Jones said. They have to balance whether the mistake was honest or made out of negligence.
‘We have to explore standards of evidence for court, especially expert evidence whether that is provided externally or internally,’ he said.
He will be working with the Legal Department, which is responsible for prosecuting cases.
Mr. Jones said that in the past experienced police officers have been accepted as experts when the issue related to whether a gun is a lethal barrelled weapon capable of being fired.
He said officers typically examine the gun and take it to the firing range to fire off a few rounds.
Equipment for more technical testing is not available on island, Mr. Jones said. Any detailed examination of bullets or markings is done by an expert abroad, usually in the US.
There are cost implications in bringing experts from overseas, he said. ‘But when individuals’ liberties are at stake, we’ve got to get it right.’
The quality of evidence has to be the best, Mr. Jones said.
‘We can’t afford to make mistakes,’ he said.
The Firearms Law contains a long list of items that are firearms and includes the term lethal barrelled weapon. It does not, however, define this term.
Mr. Jones, who joined the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service in May after 30-plus years experience in the UK, shared his understanding of what lethal barrelled means.
He said that if someone is hit by a projectile, the fact of whether it can have lethal consequences will determine if the item discharging the projectile is lethal barrelled.
A typical water pistol would not be lethal. A gun capable of firing bullets would be. Where the distinction gets difficult, Mr. Jones said, is with an air gun or a gun operated by gas pressure.
‘Then it gets technical as to whether it’s lethal or not,’ he said.