Police complaints made up a vast majority of cases filed in 2018 with the Cayman Islands’ Ombudsman, the body tasked with investigating complaints against government entities.

Of the 230 cases opened by Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston in 2018, nearly two-thirds, or 143, represented complaints against law enforcement, ranging from safe handling of police Tasers to unreasonable use of force.

Seventy-six of these cases were resolved within the year and 67 were carried over to 2019, according to a year in review report released Friday by the Ombudsman.

The next largest complaints category was maladministration by government, representing a quarter of cases opened. Nine of the 59 maladministration cases from 2018 were carried into the new year. Freedom of Information appeals represented an additional 23 cases, nearly two-thirds of which went unresolved and were carried into 2019.

The Ombudsman also opened five whistleblower cases, and answered 229 inquiries about freedom of information (87), data protection (65) and maladministration (58), among other topics.

Review of RCIPS Taser policy

The Ombudsman recommended the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service assess its Taser policies and training programmes, following an incident in February 2018, when a police officer accidentally discharged the device during a school demonstration and struck a student.

Tasers are weapons that stun by emitting two barbed probes, delivering an electric charge and typically incapacitating the recipient.

In this case, the child received minor injuries that did not require hospital treatment. A doctor attending the career day presentation was able to offer assistance.

The officer involved, according to the Ombudsman’s report, “was unable to account for how a cartridge came to be attached to the Taser and ultimately deployed from the weapon, injuring the child”.

An Ombudsman investigation found that one of the Tasers provided by the police armoury was capable of discharging, despite a prior check by the armourer. The investigation also found that the ‘unintentional discharge policy’ was not displayed at every armoury, and no policy document was present pertaining to the care and handling of weapons. The police Taser policy does not include standards for the use of such weapons during civilian demonstrations.

Further, the RCIPS Officer Safety Training Committee was not informed of the incident.

“The lack of confidence and the absence of policy or protocols for the use of Tasers in a situation such as this career day was of significant concern to the Ombudsman,” the report noted.

The Ombudsman recommended future unintentional discharges be reported to the safety committee and that a post-incident assessment be carried out. RCIPS was given six months to implements these changes.

Unreasonable use of force

A roadside check in a suspected impaired driving case led to two altercations between officers and the driver of the vehicle, who was repeatedly struck with a baton while in police custody, according to the Ombudsman report.

During the traffic stop, the Ombudsman noted, “The exchange between the officer and the driver became heated after the driver refused to be breathalysed. A struggle ensued. The driver was arrested and taken to the police station.

“A further altercation took place at the police station between the driver and one of the arresting officers. The incident happened in the custody area of the station where the driver was struck repeatedly with a police baton.”

The Ombudsman did not accept the officer’s explanation that the use of force was in self-defence. Hermiston concluded that other options had been available, and she recommended disciplinary action be considered by the police commissioner. The commissioner accepted the recommendations, according to the Ombudsman report.

Police pursuit resulting in injury

The Ombudsman decided of her own volition to review a case from 2016, in which a police pursuit of an armed robbery suspect concluded in a collision between one of the police vehicles and the rear wheel of the suspect’s motorcycle.

“The rider was knocked from the bike and incurred serious but non-life-threatening injuries,” the Ombudsman’s report noted.

Before the collision, the motorcyclist had ignored police directions to stop and officers began to pursue the masked rider by car and helicopter.

“The motorcyclist drove at high speed, overtaking vehicles and often travelling on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic,” the Ombudsman wrote, noting that the dangerous driving continued for miles.

Following her investigation, Hermiston concluded that police had not breached the law.

“She did, however, identify deficiencies in RCIPS policies, procedures, training and equipment relating to police pursuits and made recommendations regarding corrective action,” the Ombudsman’s report said.

Hermiston wrote that the police commissioner had accepted the recommendations and she was awaiting confirmation that the deficiencies had been addressed.

Investigation of dog fatality

A pre-planned police operation to recover unlicensed firearms in May 2018 resulted in the death of a loose dog.

While a trained customs dog handler was on site during the operation, officers found themselves confronted by an aggressive dog that they were unable to avoid, the Ombudsman’s report said.

One officer attempted to retreat from the animal, “however, the dog continued to charge the officer. A single shot was discharged at the dog”, the report stated.

An animal welfare officer took the dog to a veterinary hospital, where it was determined the injuries were too extensive and the dog was euthanised. The dog suffered a single shot to the neck area.

The Ombudsman’s investigation into the incident concluded, “Officers were acting lawfully in the execution of the search warrant and that the discharge of a single shot was a measured response to the level of threat posed to the police.”

To find the full Ombudsman Year in Review 2018, visit www.ombudsman.ky.