Verdict adjourned for officers accused of assault

Two police officers accused of using excessive force against a suspect in May 2014 will hear Magistrate Philippa McFarlane’s verdicts for or against them on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Evidence and closing speeches concluded on Thursday in the trial of Cardiff Robinson and Austin Etienne, who pleaded not guilty to common assault. The assault involved use of their Taser guns on a driver whom they had pursued at night into the interior of East End after an incident in central George Town. The pursuit involved at least two police cars and the police helicopter.

The helicopter unit provided video footage of the suspect’s capture. The Taser guns also had cameras mounted on them and footage from all three sources was viewed several times during the trial.

Both officers gave evidence and said they used the Tasers because feared for their safety and the safety of other officers.

Robinson, whose evidence has already been reported, answered “yes” when Crown counsel Candia James asked him if he had been fearful for his life.

Etienne pointed out that after the suspect’s car door was pulled open, a machete could be seen near the driver’s seat. “I am of the firm belief that [the suspect] would have used the machete on us,” he said. Asked when he no longer felt threatened, he said it was when the suspect was handcuffed.

The video footage shows that the suspect was tased at least once while in the car and at least once more while he was on his stomach on the ground. Four or five officers can be seen standing around him. Someone is saying “Free up your hand! Free up your hand!” before the man’s two hands are cuffed.

In her closing speech, Ms. James said Robinson and Etienne tried to persuade the court that they had an honest belief that the suspect was reaching for a weapon or trying to threaten them. “You can find that belief was not honest by looking at the video,” she suggested.

Ms. James also reminded the court of the audio portion of the recordings, in which voices are heard saying, “Burn him, Shock him.” Attorney Dennis Brady spoke on behalf of Robinson. He said the state of mind of both officers was not unreasonable given all that had happened already – the domestic incident that prompted a report to police in the first place, the suspect’s refusal to stop although he was pursued be police cars with flashing lights and sirens, his driving through a roadblock.

Once the suspect did stop at a dead end, he was told repeatedly, “Come out of the vehicle, come out of the vehicle,” but he did not do so.

Robinson was a conscientious, hard-working officer and his reaction under the circumstances was reasonable, Mr. Brady concluded.

Attorney Natasha Bodden spoke on behalf of Etienne and adopted all that Mr. Brady had said about the officers’ state of mind.

She pointed out that the video footage had been played during the trial sometimes in slow-motion, then rewound and played again and sometimes with the image stopped on a single frame. “But remember – it was all in a split second,” she said, and Etienne had to make decisions in that short time.

The magistrate checked her schedule for the next few weeks and consulted the attorneys about theirs before she settled on Oct. 26. She noted that there had been two days of evidence in January before the sittings on Sept. 7 and 8; she would have to go through all four days of evidence in addition to the video, she explained.