Caymanian wins police abuse lawsuit

A Caymanian man has won a lawsuit
against the Cayman Islands Attorney General and Cayman Islands Government in
relation to what his attorneys say was police abuse and misconduct.

Daniel Bennett’s case stemmed from
an incident which occurred in December, 2003, in which a police car and his
motorcycle collided during a chase, leaving the then 15-year-old with a
severely injured leg and broken ribs.

According to his attorneys, his
hospital bills totalled somewhere in the region of $140,000.

 The source of contention in the proceedings is
whether Mr. Bennett was hit and pushed into a rock by a patrol car said to be
in pursuit of the young man or if he, upon allegedly realising the pathway he was
riding on was a dead-end blocked by three boulders, turned and rode directly
into the squad car.

Several witnesses testified during
the trial.

These included the officer who was
in pursuit of Mr. Bennett that day, John Andrews.

His account of the incident is that
upon stopping his police vehicle about 30 feet from three boulders in the road
blocking Mr. Bennett’s alleged escape efforts, he turned the bike around and
rode it straight into the front of his car.

Pictures of the area where the
incident occurred, said to be taken on the day of the incident, show only one
rock with what Mr. Bennett’s attorneys said is more than enough space for
Bennett to get through on his trail bike.

They contend that he was hit by the
police cruiser from behind and pinned against the rock.

Other witnesses included Sergeant
Duane Jones, who said he received a report about a motorcycle travelling at
high speeds and went to the location.

Upon arriving at what was described
as a dirt road off Watercourse Road, Sgt. Jones said he observed a police car,
a yellow motorcycle and a young man with injuries to his leg.

He said the youngster then ran off
into nearby housing before the ambulance arrived. He later learnt that Mr.
Bennett had been taken to hospital for treatment.

When asked how he knew the car PC
Andrews was driving was a police car, the sergeant said he was attached to the
West Bay Police Station and was familiar with the vehicles in the fleet.

However, during cross examination,
Mr. Jones was unable to say with certainty the colour of the car and whether it
had a siren or police insignia displayed on it and where.

Mr. Bennett maintained that he
heard no siren and had no way of knowing the car was a police vehicle.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Richard
Lynagh, established that the first time the officer was asked to give a
statement regarding the incident was some time in 2009.

He suggested that the officer’s
recollection of whether there were three rocks blocking the path or one was
also unreliable.

 Other officers including PC Trevor Miller gave
evidence about the damage sustained by the police cruiser, which was said to
total some $2,000.

Mr Miller added that there were
three rocks blocking the path and there was no way the rider could get through.

Mr. Miller could not say whether
the police car had a siren.

However, Mr. Lynagh suggested this
was telling, given that accidents involving police cars are generally looked at
very carefully.

 “If my client had ridden into the police car,
why was he only charged with driving without being qualified and driving
without insurance and not careless driving?” he asked.

That charge was added later but the
prosecution offered no evidence.

Mr. Miller said he did not know who
added the charge.

A witness statement by Obed Rivers,
who witnessed the accident corroborated Bennett’s story.

However, though the police had Mr.
Rivers’ statement in hand, the differences in his and Mr. Bennett’s account to
the officer’s were never queried and the case was closed.

The plaintiff also offered the
testimony of Jeffrey Armstrong, a professional engineer, who specialises in
forensic engineering pertaining to accidents.

He testified that there was
approximately five feet between the fence and the one boulder Mr. Bennett contends
was in the road.

He said the rock weighed roughly
9,000 pounds and the theory that the car moved the rock and created the space
subsequently was unlikely.

Mr. Armstrong explained that to
bend the frame of the motorcycle at low speeds, as was the case, force from two
sides would have to compress the bike.

He suggested that this was
consistent with the account of the bike being hit and pushed into the rock.

He said PC Andrews’ evidence that
he was about 30 feet away when the rider turned and rode into his car was
inconsistent with the damage to the motorcycle and Mr. Bennett’s injuries,
adding that if the officer’s account were true, the plaintiff would have ended
up on his hood or his windshield. He said previous testimony that the bike was
too big to go through the passage between the rock/s was incorrect.

The defendant in the matter also
offered an expert in the form of Sergeant Lenford Butler, who testified that in
his estimation the plaintiff had enough room to turn around on his back and
head back toward the police car.

Although PC Andrews’ account of the
bike sliding and then colliding with the car was in the bundle he used to come
to his conclusions, Mr. Butler concluded that this would not have resulted in
the plaintiff being pinned against the rock.

He also admitted that there was
open space in the direction of the police car and it was not blocking the
rider’s way when and if he turned around.

Sgt. Butler only became involved in
the case in December, 2009.

Upon announcing his findings,
Justice Alexander Henderson said he was only tasked with deciding liability in
the matter.

He revisited the testimony of
several witnesses and gave reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them.

As a result of the evidence,
Justice Henderson said he was satisfied that the police car had no siren, Mr.
Bennett was wearing a helmet, the opening was big enough for a motorcycle to
pass through and that the police car bumped him causing him to fall, amounting
to negligent driving.

He ordered damages to be assessed
against the attorney general, who is liable for the police vicariously.

Indemnity costs have also been
requested in the matter by Mr. Bennett’s Attorneys on the basis that there was
a wanton attitude taking by the police regarding the proceedings.

A final decision on that matter
will be made at the hearing into damages.

Mr. Bennett was also awarded costs
immediately and his attorney fees are to be paid upon production of billing
information to the defendant.

In addition, Mr. Bennett received
$40,000 as an interim payment for loss of work due to back problems as result
of his injuries.

The attorney general was
represented Attorney Murali Ram.

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