Police downplay GSR concerns

Attorney says disclosure is at issue

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service sought to downplay revelations from last week that gunshot residue or “GSR” was found in numerous locations throughout the George Town police station, leaving at least the potential to contaminate criminal case evidence.  

However, the attorney who first brought the matter to light said the issue had as much to do with tardy disclosure of possibly exculpatory evidence to the defence as it did with the potential for evidence contamination.  

An August memo written to Royal Cayman Islands Police Service senior commanders by a police crime scene technician raised questions about just how much investigating officers can rely on “GSR” for court evidence.  

A 29 August memo written by former RCIPS Scientific Support Manager Martin Gaule states Mr. Gaule’s “personal view” that GSR evidence should be specifically restricted and that it “cannot safely be used to prove or disprove possession of a firearm where there is no suggestion that the weapon has been recently fired”.  

Mr. Gaule wrote that the police department, as well as the Crown, might wish to consider the circumstances in which costly GSR analysis is of value to an investigation. 

Prior to the memo’s release, random sampling for GSR was done at the George Town police station. The sample swabs were sent to CARIGEN lab in Jamaica to be analysed. 

Mr. Gaule reported that results showed a “high level” of GRS present in one area outside cell No. 6 in the police station and also on the hands of a 
police officer who is authorised to carry firearms on duty. “Low levels” of GSR were found in other areas outside cell No. 6 and on the belt of a firearms officer.  

Trace amounts of GSR were found on the counter of the police station “custody suite”, on the back seat and glass of a police car, and on the belt pants and weapon of another firearms officer. 

Police Superintendent Marlon Bodden said such routine testing is done in most police departments to head off potential evidence contamination situations.  

“The results showed only two areas where high levels of GSR were present: on the hands of a firearms officer and outside one cell,” Mr. Bodden said. “Such a finding would not be unexpected as the report itself acknowledges. It is for this reason that our protocol is that suspects are not handled by firearms officers without adequate precaution being taken to guard against contamination. The other areas yielded low levels or trace amounts of GSR.  

“Furthermore, it should be noted that it is not normal procedure for GSR evidence alone to be used to prove possession of a firearm. GSR evidence is generally used to support other evidence available such as DNA or eye witness testimony.”  

 

Disclosure 

If the August GSR memo was no big deal, as Superintendent Bodden’s response suggests, local attorney Peter Polack wonders why it took the Crown more than a month to disclose it to the defence.  

Mr. Polack said he had made a request for such an evidence test to be done back in 2010 which was refused by a representative from the Director of Public Prosecutions. 

He said it was disclosed to him “just prior” to a case management hearing on 10 October.  

“The belated release of a RCIPS forensic report dated 29 August, 2012, on 10 October, 2012, suggests widespread GSR contamination in RCIPS buildings and cars,” Mr. Polack said. “A request had been made for such a report to have been completed in July 2010 by me but was refused by the DPP representative.” 

This was not the first belated release or absence of release for disclosure purposes, Mr. Polack said.  

“The recent revelation about the GSR contamination within the RCIPS and the unconscionable delay in the release of this information to persons affected by this matter is not the first time there has been a failure by the Cayman Islands law enforcement to release crucial information in a timely manner,” Mr. Polack said. “In July 2010, the Grand Court ruled that there had been a breach of a Defendant’s right to disclosure in the Raziel Jeffers case which breach was admitted by the DPP representative present in court. 

According to Mr. Polack: “The Judge stated that ‘Crown counsel accepts before me that the accused’s right to disclosure had been breached” and “I have been assured during argument that steps will now be taken in the Prosecution Service to ensure that there is no repetition of this unfortunate event’”. 

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