Court blasts police officer in negligence case

The courthouse building in downtown George Town.

Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez had strong words on Thursday for a senior police office who was investigating complaints about cosmetic injections that went wrong.

The defendant, Zunilda Baldovino, had three trial dates set, but the matter did not go ahead because on each occasion evidence for the Crown’s case was either still forthcoming or had just been disclosed to the defense attorney, Jonathon Hughes. Last week Mr. Hughes argued that this late disclosure had deprived his client of the opportunity to adequately prepare her defense.

Ms. Baldovino faces two charges of doing a reckless and negligent act. Two complainants were allegedly injected in the face by the defendant with a silicone-based product while she was employed in a beauty salon in October and November 2016.

Crown counsel Darlene Oko told the court last week that recently obtained medical evidence would show that the injections had resulted in permanent disfigurement causing irreparable harm that could not be corrected.

Ms. Baldovino was charged in August 2017; the matter came to court in September and she pleaded not guilty in October. Trial was set to take place on March 26, 2018, but could not go ahead then or in May because evidence had not yet been disclosed to the defense.

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Ms. Oko said she did not defend the acts of the investigating officer, who held the rank of inspector, in terms of what the officer’s obligations should have been to produce the results of her investigation to the Crown. Ms. Oko accepted that medical records were served late – on May 28 and June 7.

Ms. Oko said she and senior police service management took immediate steps to rectify the situation, with a new officer replacing the inspector. Many, many hours were spent bringing the new officer up to speed in the matter, she said. She did not dispute that the Crown would not have been ready for trial in March or May, but said they were ready by the next date, June 12.

The issue at this stage was whether Ms. Baldovino could receive a fair trial, she asserted.

Mr. Hughes had asked the court to stop the proceedings, saying a clear message had to be sent to those involved in the investigation and prosecution of matters.

The magistrate agreed that there was no separation between the police and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the handling of cases that come before the court.

In this case, she said, the handling of the investigations had been inexcusable, complacent and incompetent. She found that the investigating officer’s conduct was an “absolute disgrace” and fell far short of what was expected of any officer, much less an inspector. How the investigation was handled showed lack of professional conduct, lack of urgency, and lack of respect for everyone concerned – the defendant, the complainants and fellow officers, she said.

Given the gravity of the alleged offenses and the interests of all parties concerned, the magistrate said the late service of evidence was inexcusable but did not prevent the defendant from having a fair trial.

She accepted Mr. Hughes’s submission that the recent addition of two new charges of causing grievous bodily harm was an abuse of process. Although the evidence would have been the same, the effect of these charges would be significantly different, she noted, and she dismissed them.

She set the trial to commence on Aug. 22 and continued the defendant’s bail until then. Mr. Hughes had also argued that his client was undergoing hardship because she could not work while awaiting trial and had to rely on friends for support.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service issued a statement Thursday afternoon in response to the magistrate’s comment.

The statement read: “The RCIPS notes the critical comments made by the magistrate in this matter and regrets the lack of professionalism shown by the investigating officer in this case. The standard of investigation in this case does not comport with the standards of victim care or case management that the RCIPS strives to uphold as an organization. The RCIPS expresses its regret to both the victims and crown counsel, and has referred this matter to Professional Standards Unit for investigation.”

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