The Ombudsman has recommended that Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne consider disciplining one of his officers for using a baton to strike a dirt biker who had led police on a 72-minute chase in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The report by Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston into the 4 April incident also stated that the same officer acted unprofessionally by threatening a woman with arrest as she recorded the incident. Another officer who pulled the biker off his motorbike during the pursuit was deemed to have acted in a “reasonable” fashion.
Hermiston’s report also found a police motorcycle had crashed into a private vehicle driven by an off-duty police officer who had joined in the pursuit.
The report centred around how police reacted after receiving complaints about several motorcyclists riding recklessly, performing stunts and being a nuisance around 4pm that day.
The police helicopter located seven motorcycles and riders near Lookout Gardens in Bodden Town, and as the police approached, the riders fled in different directions.
The Ombudsman report stated that the RCIPS pursued one motorcyclist who appeared to pose the greatest risk to the public. That pursuit lasted more than 70 minutes, and came to an end when an officer on foot managed to grab the motorcyclist’s arm and pull him to the ground.
“The incident was witnessed by several bystanders, some of whom recorded it and circulated their recordings on social media,” the report noted. “A struggle ensued and additional officers arrived to assist. Videos of the incident show one officer arriving on the scene and immediately drawing his baton and striking the motorcyclist on his leg while he was on the ground struggling with the arresting officer, who had him pinned.
“The officer then moved to confront a woman standing nearby, he yelled at her and told her to return to her car. This same officer returned to interact with the woman on two further occasions yelling at her and threatening arrest for recording the incident.”
The Ombudsman found that the force used by the arresting officer when he grabbed the motorcyclist’s arm and pinned him in order to handcuff him was “necessary and reasonable to end the pursuit and effect the arrest”.
However, Hermiston said in her report that she was concerned about the actions of the second officer who used his baton to strike the motorcyclist on the leg. She found that this use of force was “unnecessary and unreasonable given the suspect was on the ground and, although struggling to get up, was not strenuously resisting arrest”.
The Ombudsman also has recommended that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s pursuit policy be updated and implemented because the existing one, which is dated 16 Aug. 2010, is “outdated and not fit for purpose because it lacks clarity and is difficult to understand”.
She noted in her report that senior officers on duty had failed to take charge of the incident which led to the pursuit unnecessarily continuing for an extended period, increasing the risk to the public.
During the chase, an off-duty officer joined his fellow police, using his private vehicle to “conduct a tactical manoeuvre” to try to intercept the fleeing biker, Hermiston found. However, rather than stopping the suspect, the manoeuvre resulted in a police motorcyclist crashing into the officer’s vehicle.
Hermiston found this to be in contravention of RCIPS policy, saying it had created a “high risk” as the vehicle was not outfitted with basic police markings or lights and siren. She recommended that the officer receive advice and guidance regarding his actions during the incident.
She also suggested that Byrne clarify for all RCIPS officers whether it is ever permissible for off-duty police to involve themselves in pursuits using private vehicles.
The 23-year-old biker, from Bodden Town, was subsequently charged with breaking curfew as well as several road offences.
The Cayman Compass has reached out the RCIPS for a response to the Ombudsman’s report and is awaiting a reply.
Hermiston told the Compass that her office would not be releasing the full report to the public as it contained “confidential, sensitive and personal information”. She said, “The Office of the Ombudsman seeks to release as much information as possible on the matters we investigate. However, we must balance the need for transparency with the obligation to protect the integrity of criminal investigations and people’s right to privacy.”
- The police commissioner should consider disciplining the officer over the use of a baton and his unprofessional conduct in his interactions with the woman at the scene.
- The RCIPS pursuit policy should be updated and implemented as soon as possible.
- A debrief of all officers involved should occur to review this incident and learn from it.
- Critical-incident managers should receive direction with respect to their roles in future pursuits.
- The police commissioner should clarify for all officers whether it is ever permissible for off-duty officers to involve themselves in pursuits using private vehicles.