Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez said inconsistencies in testimony and a failure by the Crown to show intent left her no choice on Wednesday, Nov. 29, but to free a man charged with assaulting a senior police officer.
“There are too many questions and too many inconsistencies,” Ms. Hernandez said, referring to the accounts of Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers, coupled with a video taken when Mark Blake, 28, was arrested Dec. 10 last year at a traffic stop. “An intent to injure [the officer] has not been shown.”
Mr. Blake was a passenger in a car that was stopped during a Christmas traffic campaign on Esterley Tibbetts Highway near the old Hyatt hotel. During the stop, Mr. Blake twice used an expletive and Inspector Ian Yearwood determined that the offensive language constituted disorderly conduct. The inspector attempted to arrest Mr. Blake, who resisted. During the struggle, Mr. Yearwood was struck in the mouth and two of his teeth were broken.
Defense attorney Anthony Akiwumi argued from the beginning that it was a case in which police had overstepped their authority and that Mr. Yearwood had lost his cool. Simply using bad language, he said, in the confines of a private vehicle, is not justification for arrest.
Mr. Akiwumi argued in his summation that the police response, which included using pepper spray on Mr. Blake, was unlawful.
“Inspector Yearwood sought to give the impression, to justify his arrest, that the defendant shouted loud enough for others to hear,” Mr. Akiwumi said. “That was not so.”
He based that argument on testimony on Wednesday by Mr. Yearwood’s fellow officer, Kenville Holder, who was also involved in dealing with the stopped car. Mr. Holder said he was standing next to Mr. Yearwood, but did not hear the comments Mr. Blake made.
The Crown’s Emma Hutchinson argued that the court should focus on the assault charge. Questions about whether the arrest or the use of pepper spray were justified, she said, were side issues.
“The legality of [Mr. Yearwood’s] actions doesn’t come into it,” Ms. Hutchinson said. “It comes down to whether he was assaulted. The defendant could easily have gotten out of the car. Instead he punched [the officer].”
But showing that Mr. Blake actually punched Mr. Yearwood proved difficult.
Mr. Holder’s testimony brought other inconsistencies into the evidence presented by the Crown. Mr. Yearwood had earlier testified that Mr. Blake had kicked him before landing the punch to his mouth. Mr. Holder said he saw Mr. Blake raise his left leg “as if to kick,” but that he never saw him strike out with his leg. He also described Mr. Blake’s resistance as “flailing” about with his arms, rather than seeing him punch Mr. Yearwood.
Mr. Akiwumi used that testimony to argue that Mr. Blake was merely trying to keep Mr. Yearwood at bay as the officer attempted to pull him from the car.
“It may well be that Mr. Yearwood was struck in the mouth,” he said, “but that is entirely consistent with flailing about in self defense and [was likely] an accident.”
Ms. Hernandez also noted during Mr. Holder’s testimony that the video did not appear to show the defendant being combative.
“Would you agree the defendant is not putting up a fight?” she asked Mr. Holder, after a segment of video showed Mr. Blake attempting to hold onto the interior of the car as Mr. Yearwood struggled to pull him out.
“He’s trying not to be taken out of the vehicle,” Mr. Holder said.
“So, you would agree with my observation,” Ms. Hernandez said.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Mr. Holder replied.
Mr. Holder also did not help the Crown’s case when he said he did not remember Mr. Blake having been hit with pepper spray, a part of the struggle that was captured on the video.
Mr. Akiwumi said there was a larger consideration in the case.
“It’s an opportunity to send a message loud and clear,” he told Ms. Hernandez, “that the [police actions] are completely inappropriate in a traffic stop where, for all intents and purposes, the driver was acting lawfully and the passenger was acting lawfully.”
The magistrate said she agreed with the Crown that the legality of the police action and whether the response was disproportionate were side issues, if they were taken on their own. But taken together, along with the actions depicted in the video, they created a larger context that she had to consider.
Speaking after the verdict, Mr. Blake said he had been hopeful of a positive verdict when he came to court Wednesday.
“I kind of felt like this was how it was going to go,” he said. “I never really did anything.”
Mr. Akiwumi said he thinks police should take note of the case.
“They know what happened,” he said. “Hopefully, they will learn from it.”