Two suspended Royal Cayman Islands Police officers who were found guilty of common assault committed during the course of their duties will be allowed to return to work, after a Summary Court magistrate ordered last week that no conviction be recorded against either man.
“I’m going to lift the suspension order based on the outcome of the court,” Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said Friday. “They’ll be offered the opportunity to come back to work.”
Magistrate Philippa McFarlane found Austin Etienne and Cardiff Robinson guilty of common assault in November 2016 after trial evidence revealed video footage from the Taser stun guns used by both officers on a suspect they were pursuing in May 2014. In the weeks after the verdict, police suspended both officers, raising some questions as to why the men had not lost their jobs immediately. On Friday, Commissioner Byrne said that the RCIPS was careful in making that decision.
“If I had fired them [at that time], what would I have done? I’d have had to reinstate them,” he said. “When something like that happens, you have to follow the best course of action. Suspension, for me, at that time, as difficult as it might have been, was the best course of action for community confidence.
“The courts have decided, not me, and I can’t second guess the ruling of the judge. Therefore, it would be wrong to do anything else other than accept the decision of the court and allow the … removal of the suspension order for these two police officers.”
Magistrate McFarlane conditionally discharged both men for 12 months under the condition that they not commit any further offense during that time. In earlier court appearances, both officers had pleaded not guilty and indicated they used the Tasers because they feared for their own safety and the safety of other officers.
In finding the officers guilty on Nov. 29, 2016 of common assault, the magistrate noted that the officers were responding to a domestic assault, not a “Class A” criminal offense such as a robbery.
The magistrate stated that she did not believe either officer was in fear for their life at the time they used the Tasers.
However, during last week’s court appearance, she also noted that police officers have a difficult task when deciding how to deploy force and that the court had to weigh their entire police service against an “isolated incident of poor judgment.”
The case of officers Etienne and Robinson were discussed last month in connection with legislative amendments sought to the local Police Law, requiring the police commissioner to fire officers who have been convicted of a crime.
The amendment bill states the officers may be rehired if they are cleared on appeal of their conviction. Mr. Byrne said he agreed with the idea behind the bill, but believes the commissioner needs a bit more flexibility in the proposal.
As it now stands, the amended law, if it is passed by the Legislative Assembly this month, would force the commissioner into firing officers when their specific situation might not warrant that.
“I’m going to have to consider every case on its own merits,” Mr. Byrne said.
“[The bill is] too prescriptive and, in fairness to the attorney general’s office, they appreciate that,” the commissioner added. “It’s not that every time you’re convicted of a road traffic offense or not wearing your seat belt, that you’re going to be sacked. That’s not what it’s meant to be.”