No conviction for officer in assault case

Senior constable to return to active duty

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.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Why were these extenuating and mitigating circumstances not brought up in the trial and a ‘not guilty’ verdict rendered in the first instance ?

    This precedent has been set many years ago before Cayman had legislated human rights laws when police officers were regularly found guilty of assault and other crimes and convictions not recorded so that they could keep their jobs.

    Things have changed in the last few years but what sense does it make to prosecute, find an officer guilty of the accused crime…and keep them on the job ?

    Any police officer who does not act professionally and commits acts of violence through lack of emotional control and loss of temper, regardless of provocation, is a danger and menace to the public and a liability to the police force, given the powers and authority that they already have.

    What is the deterrence from that same police officer committing the same offense again..knowing nothing detrimental will happen….or other police officers following the example set ?

    What about the human rights of the victim ?

    Does he not deserve justice for the crime committed against him ?

    And what about the attitude of the public who see police officers let off from crimes that the general public could easily end up in prison for ?

    This raises the spectre of retaliation against police officers from other members of the public who wish to make other officers pay for the sins of the few or for reasons of pure revenge.

    IMO, this decision hurts rather than helps the community/police relationship that has been so much a part of public debate and focus recently…with that relationship being at a very low point at the moment.

    Is it worth it to put the entire balance of that equation at risk for the sake of one individual police officer who HAS been found guilty of committing a serious offense ?

    The only conclusion I can come to is that…the more things change in the Cayman Islands, the more they remain the same.

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    • Thumb up!
      The degree to which the Cayman judicial system delivers injustice is of paramount concern. Does judicial performance commission review individual cases of judges? How regularly the performance of judges is reviewed?

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