Cayman officials question whether all misbehaving police officers have to do to escape a potential criminal offence is resign.
It’s an issue that, perhaps, received little notice in a November 2011 report released by Cayman Islands Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert.
Dilbert was reviewing an open records application made by a former Royal Cayman Islands Police officer for records relating to his own case; a case which involved his dismissal from the service.
“The RCIPS believes two investigations of complaints against the applicant, while currently inactive, should remain suspended sine die [Latin phrase meaning ‘without a date’] until such time as the applicant rejoins the RCIPS.”
According to a submission in the case made to the information commissioner’s office: “The RCIPS states that ‘the investigation in relation to the matter….has been suspended, and will resume should the applicant rejoin the service’. They go on to state that the applicant ‘resigned from the RCIPS…and it is possible that [he] could rejoin the RCIPS’.
Dilbert called this argument put forth by the police service “absurd” and ordered them to release the documents to the former officer.
“[The RCIPS’ position in the open records case] would mean that a police officer who commits an offence would have to do no more than resign from the RCIPS to gain immunity from prosecution,” Dilbert wrote in her decision on the open records application. “Either the RCIPS has a case against the applicant or it does not. If it does, then it should have been investigated and concluded; if it does not, the file should be closed.”
The former officer’s name was not released in the context of the open records application.
A number of cases involving individuals in the Cayman Islands making criminal accusations against police officers have arisen in recent months, some of them dating back as far as nearly a decade ago.
What, if anything, was done regarding these accusations is largely unknown since the police service’s general policy is that it does not comment on internal disciplinary or staffing matters.
A native of the United Kingdom, former RCIPS Detective Constable Richard Clarke served as a member of the police Financial Crime Unit and was, by most accounts, a well-respected and effective officer.
However, he was accused by local attorney Anthony Akiwumi in a recent Summary Court case, of committing the criminal offence of ‘compounding’.
Clarke, who resigned from the RCIPS and has since moved back to England, was contacted by the Observer on Sunday. He had not agreed to make a statement for this article by press time and there is no evidence that he has ever been charged with any crime in the Cayman Islands.
According to court records, Akiwumi was representing a defendant in a theft case who was accused of dishonestly appropriating rental payments of some $22,600 made by two tenants to a landlord who had hired the defendant to manage the property.
The defendant argued that an employee of her company was to blame for the thefts.
Akiwumi argued on behalf of the defendant that the investigating officer in the case, Clarke, committed the offence known as compounding “by attempting to obtain payment of the missing rental sums for the benefit of the landlord by way of an agreement that the defendant would not be prosecuted if she paid the sums…”
The Cayman Islands Penal Code [2010 Revision] describes compounding of offences as: “A person who asks, receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain, any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any other person upon any agreement or understanding that he will compound or conceal an offence, or will abstain from, discontinue or delay a prosecution for an offence, or will withhold any evidence thereof is guilty of an offence.”
Other behaviour by Clarke came to light during the trial and Magistrate Valdis Foldats referred to it in his ruling.
“On 15 June, 2010, some two weeks after the defendant’s arrest and second interview, the investigating officer entered into a listing agreement with the defendant’s company – she became his realtor on a commission basis; and on 23 July, 2010, he signed a purchase agreement whereby the defendant would hold deposit monies for the transaction in relation to his property. Ultimately, the sale went through with the defendant’s assistance. The theft charges in this case were not filed until August 2010,” the magistrate summarised.
During the theft trial, Clarke said he wanted to sell his house because he was resigning from the police service. He subsequently left the jurisdiction, but returned to give evidence in the criminal case he had investigated.
Magistrate Foldats said the evidence disclosed that Clarke, without directions from a superior officer, assisted the landlord to reach an unlawful agreement with the defendant by which prosecution for theft was delayed – and would have been abstained from - if the total missing rent had been paid.
Further, the magistrate said, Clarke had taken an active, aggressive and partisan role. “In essence, he was acting as an unregulated, private debt collector while clothed in the authority of a police officer – ‘pressuring’ the defendant to make payments under threat of arrest.”
The case against the defendant in the theft case was stayed by Magistrate Foldats.
In an entirely separate case to Clarke’s, a number of RCIPS officers were involved at different stages in the 2008 arrest of a woman over repeated incidents of rock throwing at a home on Kipling Street in Bodden Town.
The criminal case against the defendant, a then-60 year old, five-foot-tall, 115-pound woman, was tossed out in early 2009 because “new evidence” arose in the case. Just what that “new evidence” was has never been made clear.
A February 2012 lawsuit filed over the arrest makes serious criminal accusations against the police officers involved, who the woman’s attorney claimed “could not have reasonably suspected that it was [the woman] who had committed the offence of rock throwing either at the McLaughlin residence [on Kipling Street] or at the police.
“The officers’ hand-cuffing and man-handling [the woman] was oppressive, arbitrary and unconstitutional,” according to the lawsuit. The claims made in the lawsuit have not been proved in any court of law and the Observer on Sunday could find no evidence that any of the officers involved were charged with any crimes.
Yet, the lawsuit accuses them of numerous breaches of legal and professional procedures, as well as potential criminal acts and violations of basic civil rights against the lawsuit’s plaintiff; the woman who was arrested in connection with the rock throwing.
The rock throwing incidents in Bodden Town were well-publicised in the local press between 2007 and 2008.
According to court records, there were 34 various complaints made to the police about it between October 2007 and February 2008 “with no apparent police success in apprehending the criminal or criminals involved”.
On 16 May, 2008, the 60-year-old woman was arrested at her home – which is adjacent to the property on Kipling Street at which the rocks were being hurled.
Police officers who responded said other rocks were falling in the yard when they arrived on the scene that night. It was during this incident that one RCIPS officer said she had seen the plaintiff in the 2012 lawsuit hurling rocks at the McLaughlin residence “with her own eyes”.
“The plaintiff would have had to have thrown fairly large rocks in excess of 100 feet or more in order to quickly rush inside her house so as not to be seen,” the lawsuit claimed.
A number of police officers went to the plaintiff’s home, noting the woman raised her voice in protest to the officers but that no offensive language or swearing was reported. She had just gotten out of the shower, according to court records.
“The officers forced their way onto the plaintiff’s premises, pushing the plaintiff back physically and arrested the plaintiff on suspicion of assault causing actual bodily harm, whereupon they pull off the plaintiff’s towel leaving her naked ... and ordered her to dress in a bath robe.”
The woman was then taken to the police station.
The lawsuit accuses two of the officers involved in the 16 May, 2008 arrest of, among other things, “fabricating” a conversation with the woman they arrested.
The existence of the conversation was “not supported of any of the officers attending the scene, but was used during the interview with [a police officer] on 23 May, 2008”.
“The plaintiff was placed overnight in a cell for a total of 12 hours in full view of several shift officers coming and going and anyone else that visited the station,” the lawsuit states. “All the time, the duty officers and others were laughing at the plaintiff’s predicament and calling her guilty. The toilet urinal in the lock-up was in full view and after numerous requests, the duty officers took a long time to come and take the plaintiff to a more private toilet.”
On 30 June, 2008, another report of rock throwing on Kipling Street was received by police. A man visiting the McLaughlin residence said a rock was thrown into the home, almost striking him.
Police went to the 60-year-old female plaintiff’s home again around 8.30pm the day of the report.
“[Three officers] arrived at the plaintiff’s residence and, after knocking on her bedroom window, arrested the plaintiff for being an idle and disorderly person in the plaintiff’s own house,” the lawsuit claims.
“Again, the plaintiff was subjected to unlawful detention, first being taken to the Bodden Town Police Station for photographing and then to West Bay Police Station where it had been determined she would be detained overnight in extremely cold and uncomfortable conditions.”
The woman was taken back to the Bodden Town station the next day before being released. The 60-year-old woman had spent a total of 16 hours in police custody before she was driven home by police officers who, once they arrived at her residence, donned plastic gloves and searched the home, the lawsuit claimed.
One of the investigating officers wrote a police incident report on the 30 June, 2008 incident and titled it “inconsiderate behaviour”, the lawsuit stated.
One of the officers involved in the ongoing rock tossing investigation is actually accused in the lawsuit of committing a criminal trespass at the plaintiff’s residence on 22 June, 2008. Again, there is no evidence a criminal prosecution for this incident was ever attempted.
The officer, according to the lawsuit, “acting on the assumption that he may find some incriminating evidence in the plaintiff’s residence” requested a warrant without providing a justice of the peace with “sufficient evidence” of what he expected to find, the court records state.
“The idea of a ‘missile throwing device’ had developed because of the lack of any other evidence, and indeed [a police sergeant] asked the plaintiff on one occasion whether she possessed a ‘catapult device,’” the lawsuit revealed.
No evidence backing up the claim of a ‘catapult’ used to launch large rocks was ever recovered by police. A Crown counsel who reviewed the police case in July 2008 formally asked the police to essentially re-submit their case with additional supporting statements, maps and photographs.
Another search warrant was obtained on 1 July, 2008, to look for the alleged ‘catapult device’, an application that the plaintiff’s lawyer called “unlawful”.
“It is not known why the justices of the peace, who signed off on the two warrants, were not more inquisitive as to the evidence [the officer] possessed in relation to a ‘missile throwing apparatus’ allegedly being hidden on the premises of the plaintiff,” the lawsuit claims.
Eight members of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service have been subjected to disciplinary action as a result of findings in the Operation Tempura and Operation Cealt misconduct investigations, according to information released under the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law.
Responding to a private individual’s open records request about the probes, which began in the Cayman Islands in 2007 and off-shoots of which apparently are still continuing, the police service indicated that six RCIPS staff members had been dismissed or forced to retire as a result of the Tempura and Cealt investigations.
The exact questions asked as part of the open records request filed this year, were: “How many members of the RCIPS have been subject to disciplinary action?” To which the RCIPS answer was “eight”. Another question sought to determine “How many members of the RCIPS have been dismissed or forced to retire?” To which the RCIPS answered “six”.
The RCIPS did not specify in its response what allegations against staff members led to their discipline or dismissal or whether any of those actions might have been criminal in nature.
According to the RCIPS response to the private individual’s FOI request, no criminal charges were filed related to either the Tempura or Cealt investigations save those brought against a former deputy police commissioner and a former Cayman Islands MLA. Both men were acquitted in criminal court trials.
Although it indicated that Operations Tempura and Cealt had both officially ended, the RCIPS response to the FOI request also indicated there was at least one allegation that “remains the subject of active investigation”. The nature of that probe was also not stated.
That’s still not the end of the issues raised by Operation Cealt, which began in 2008 as a spin off from the initial Operation Tempura misconduct and corruption investigation.
According to the open records release Operation Cealt involved “161 separate allegations”.
“All allegations were fully recorded and investigated,” the RCIPS responses indicated. “In a number of cases, the allegations were evaluated and found to be of ‘single strand’ or historic nature, thereby making it difficult to find corroboration to support them.
“A significant number of the allegations have been ‘pended’ awaiting further intelligence/evidence becoming available in order to reopen them as appropriate. At the conclusion of operation Cealt a number of these ‘pended’ allegations were passed to the newly formed RCIPS Anti-Corruption Unit for further action, if and when deemed to be appropriate.”