Police and emergency call center officials have refuted claims from relatives of five people missing at sea that a 911 call was made to report the incident several hours earlier than has officially been acknowledged.
Citing records from the telephone company and 911 call logs, officials denied that a call had been made at 8:29 p.m. on the night of the incident – more than three hours before police say they were first informed about the missing boat at 11:57 p.m.
Their comments came after family members of the victims circulated images of their own cellphones which appeared to show calls to 911 earlier on Sunday evening.
The family also released a joint statement questioning the police’s explanation and timeline of how and when they responded to the emergency on March 6.
The statement included a claim that Pauline Mullings, the mother of one of the missing men, Gary Mullings, had called 911 on Sunday evening and “pleaded with police to find the babies who were in the boat.”
The statement also claimed a second call, lasting roughly 40 seconds, was made at 10:42 p.m. from the phone of Melody Mullings-Brown, the mother of the two boys Kamron, 11, and Kanyi, 9, who were on board the boat.
“It is befuddling to us that the calls at 8:29 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. have not been acknowledged and further we query why those calls did not result in any police action,” said the family statement, accompanied by photographs of the cellphone screens, showing the call details, including time, date and duration. They cite the calls, among other concerns and questions, as further evidence of their allegation of “police inaction” on the night of the incident.
In a joint statement on Tuesday evening, the Department of Public Safety Communications, which has responsibility for the Emergency Communications Center, and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service maintained that no call had been made to 911 to report the missing boat before 11:57 p.m. that night.
The statement claimed a call was made from one of the cellphones in question at 8:29 a.m. the following morning – exactly 12 hours later than claimed. It said a transcript of this call, which including a statement from the caller that their family member “went out on a boat yesterday”, would be made public, though that had not happened by press time Wednesday.
According to the statement, “This number was checked through the 911 call log systems, which determined definitively that no 911 calls were received from this number anytime on Sunday, March 6. “However, a call was received by 911 from this number the following morning, Monday, March 7 at 8:29 a.m.”
Screenshots from the phone said to have made the Sunday evening call include details of three other unrelated calls, made around the same time that night.
Police say they obtained information from the phone provider which indicates the times reflected for all four calls is inaccurate.
“These calls are actually identified as being 12 hours after the photo reflects, based upon provider toll data,” according to the joint statement from police and 911.
The search of 911 logs did find evidence of a 40-second call from the phone of Ms. Mullings-Brown, timed at 10:52 p.m. on Sunday evening.
But police say no information was relayed during the call.
“This is what can be referred to as an open line, that is, there is no substantive conversation, but instead just an open recording of 40 seconds of ambient sound in the proximity of the telephone,” police said in the statement.
The statement continued, “The 911 Communications Centre has the critical duty to receive and respond to all emergency calls from the public. It is critical that public confidence in the Centre is not undermined by misrepresentations or manipulation of technical equipment.
“The RCIPS categorically denies allegations that it has failed to respond or withheld information regarding this tragic incident.” Three men, Gary Mullings, Edsell Haylock and Nicholas Watler and two children, Kamron and Kanyi Brown, have been missing at sea for 11 days after they did not return from a fishing trip on March 6. Their capsized boat was found the following morning, approximately 20 miles offshore.
Since the incident, police have faced criticism from the family, and in the community, for the speed of their response. The police helicopter was not launched until around 8:30 a.m. on Monday.
In previous interviews, senior police officers have said the weather conditions made an offshore helicopter mission impossible on Sunday night and that time was required early Monday to determine where to begin looking for the missing craft amid conflicting reports of where it was last sighted.
The family, in their statement, questioned why marine unit boats were not deployed on the night of the incident, pointing out that private sea captains joined the search “without hesitation.”
Citing previous incidents where police search and rescue operations had been mounted in rough conditions, they say they cannot understand why marine officers were not sent out till Monday morning.
The family has also publicized a map of the police helicopter’s movements on the Sunday night, which they say undermines the credibility of police’s claim that they checked out reports of a boat flare sighted off North West Point on Sunday evening.
Based on the flight pattern and timings, they claim the helicopter does not hover over the area for a significant period of time. The records do show the helicopter in the vicinity of North West Point. Police insist they did check the report of a flare and found nothing.
According to the family’s statement, “It is our belief that such a short flyover was not and could never constitute a search for our family.”
Governor Helen Kilpatrick said last week she would appoint an independent person to investigate the police response, following a request from Police Commissioner David Baines. Mr. Baines said his officers had acted appropriately and professionally, but that he was requesting the inquiry in the interests of transparency.
The family, in their statement, said they welcomed a public inquiry but would like it to be an independent judicial inquiry headed by a judge selected from a shortlist provided by all parties involved and with the family able to instruct its own legal representatives to ensure the inquiry is “fair and transparent.”
“With independent scrutiny, if the timeline we are presenting is found to be true and if the issues we raise show significant failings on behalf of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, then those responsible should have the fullest sanctions available brought against them,” the statement said.