Suspended police officers Austin Etienne and Cardiff Robinson attended Summary Court on Thursday to learn Magistrate Philippa McFarlane’s decision to record no convictions against them.
She had found them both guilty of common assault after a trial that included viewing of camera footage from the Tasers both men used on a man in East End after pursuing him from George Town in the early hours of May 3, 2014.
Instead of a conviction, she conditionally discharged them for 12 months – the condition being that they not commit any offense in the next 12 months. She also ordered each one to pay $400 in costs – $100 for each day of the trial, which she thought had gone on longer than it needed to.
The men first came to court in March 2015 and trial took place over four dates in 2016, with the magistrate handing down her verdicts on Nov. 29.
The officers had pleaded not guilty and gave evidence that they used their Tasers because they feared for their safety and the safety of fellow officers.
The magistrate said she gave them the benefit of the doubt regarding their first use of the Tasers, but said subsequent deployments of the devices amounted to excessive use of force.
The court met Thursday morning, when attorneys Dennis Brady and Natasha Bodden spoke in mitigation for the men. The magistrate indicated she was impressed with the character references submitted by their colleagues and superiors.
Senior Crown counsel Candia James advised that the maximum sentence in Cayman is one year imprisonment. She submitted that the offending in this case was in the most serious category because of the degree of harm caused and the culpability of the officers. She described the officers’ actions as a gratuitous infliction of violence after the suspect had been restrained.
Ms. James provided a guideline case, which the magistrate referred to in her decision.
The magistrate gave Robinson and Etienne a chance to address the court. Each spoke of his belief that at the time, he was acting appropriately. Given more time to reflect, they could have taken another course of action.
The magistrate accepted that the officers had a difficult job, especially when they have to deal with disorderly and difficult people late at night. People being detained can become violent as a result of being angry or in an attempt to secure their release, she said.
She quoted from the case Ms. James provided – that when violence is directed at officers, they have the difficult task of ensuring that the force they use is proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances. That required an assessment of the situation and how it was likely to develop. That was not always easy because incidents can move fast and be unpredictable, she indicated.
The magistrate acknowledged that she had struggled with the question of sentence before exercising her discretion not to record a conviction.
One consideration was the message sent to the public. Cayman today is not the Cayman of 10, 20 or 30 years ago, she noted, and the police service deserves the public’s support.
She considered what had happened to be an isolated incident of bad judgment and how it could affect the men’s careers. They had been suspended since their verdicts.
She pointed out that police send files for charges, but it is the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that actually reviews a file and makes the decision to charge a person. She said it was appropriate in this case for the charges to have been brought; the evidence was very strong and the case was proved against each man.
She said she thought they understood the gravity of what they had faced, and having the matter hanging over them for so long was a form of punishment.