Senior police constable Michael “Bobby” Peart was unconditionally discharged and had no conviction recorded against him Tuesday after being found guilty earlier of assaulting a suspect in custody.
Following Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez’s ruling, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service confirmed that Mr. Peart would be returning to active duty with immediate effect.
The officer had been found guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm and common assault against a man in custody on the night of Nov. 28-29, 2014.
The magistrate heard evidence in November 2016 and delivered her verdicts on Dec. 5. 2016. She adjourned sentence pending a social inquiry report.
After hearing mitigation from attorney Kathleen Ryan on Monday and background information from Crown counsel Scott Wainwright, the magistrate reserved her decision until Tuesday. She unconditionally and absolutely discharged the officer.
Mr. Wainwright had explained that the man assaulted by Mr. Peart faced charges relating to the same incident, which had started as a routine traffic stop. The man is accused of assaulting another officer at the side of the road, plus damage and disorderly conduct at the police station. His trial has not yet taken place.
The magistrate had found Mr. Peart guilty of assaulting the man with his baton in the back of a police vehicle and then choking him at the police station.
Ms. Ryan told the court that Mr. Peart had been assisting another officer by restraining the prisoner. “His intention was to keep the situation from escalating,” she said. At the station, his purpose in acting as he did was to reduce the prisoner’s aggression.
Ms. Ryan said Mr. Peart had an exemplary record over his 16 years with the police service; he had twice received a commissioner’s commendation; he had never had any disciplinary actions against him. She asked the court to balance that one incident against his career as a whole.
She pointed out that a conviction would mean the loss of Mr. Peart’s job, which would cause great financial difficulty to his family. She said he wished to apologize to the court, to the complainant and to his superiors in the police service.
In setting out the reasons for her decision to discharge Mr. Peart, the magistrate cited the sentencing guidelines issued in 2015 by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie. The court has to balance a number of competing interests and objectives, she noted. The court has to tailor the punishment to the individual circumstances of the offender while ensuring that the punishment is commensurate with the seriousness of the offense.
She cited a U.K. Court of Appeal case in which the judge acknowledged the extremely difficult task police have in discharging their duties. They have a difficult job, especially when dealing with disorderly or difficult people. People being detained can become violent as a result of being angry or in an attempt to secure their release. But the force police use must be proportionate to the situation.
In Mr. Peart’s case, the magistrate commented, the man being arrested “was no doubt a nuisance, but not a threat.” Assistance was required to get the man handcuffed and into the police car, but force was not reasonable when it involved the use of Mr. Peart’s baton and later holding the man by his throat.
She referred to the social inquiry report, which contained information that was not known to her before and helped her understand Mr. Peart’s reactions that night. Without indicating what that information was, she said she considered the period around November 2014 to have been extraordinary times for him. When that information was considered in light of the inflammatory words from the complainant, it amounted to substantial mitigation, she said.
The magistrate pointed out that the law gives her the discretion to not record a conviction when the character, antecedents, age or health of the defendant, or extenuating circumstances, make it inexpedient to inflict any punishment.
The court has to balance justice with mercy, she said, and every case must be dealt with individually. “I cannot see where justice will be served by any other sentence other than an absolute discharge,” she ruled.
She emphasized that she was not turning a blind eye to the officer’s use of force, but said her decision was based heavily on the extenuating circumstances.