Archive for December 20th, 2011

Illegal guns linked to crimes

| 20/12/2011 | 40 Comments

_DWJ5967-2_3.jpg(CNS): The RCIPS has linked a number of illegally imported guns to suspects, crimes and smugglers through a combination of cooperation with US officials and local detective work that may help to secure convictions in some serious forthcoming cases. Police Commissioner David Baines said that the recent arrest in the US of a Caymanian man who had been acquitted by the appeal court of a murder charge and released from prison last month was part of a long term investigation tracking weapons originally purchased and smuggled to Cayman from Florida that started some three years ago. Police have since seized a number of these guns, including one that has been linked to three suspects and five different crimes. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

As the local police continue the investigations into the gun smuggling ring and seize weapons in other operations locally, they have been able to directly link a number of the guns to specific crimes and suspects, assisting with ongoing court cases as well as investigations into the more recent spate of fatal gang shootings in September.

Over the last few years customs officials and police in Cayman have intercepted at least three shipments of firearms that the Florida based ring of smugglers sent to Cayman, including weapons found in air conditioning units, a toy car and the refrigerator case, which led to the latest arrest of Brandon Leslie (aka Mykkle Ebanks) in the US.

Baines said that the RCIPS was aware of other weapons purchased and smuggled by the people involved in this ring and cooperation between the US agencies and the RCIPS in this case had been important. He said there could have been as many as seventeen guns getting through packaged in containers among appliances and other goods but the police had already recovered several of them, which would be revealed in forthcoming cases, and they were confident of seizing more.

Earlier this month Robert Terry received a twelve year sentence for possession of one of the weapons that was smuggled in by the ring and more recently another of the guns has been linked to five different crimes.

The senior officer explained that in the wider pursuit of those individuals responsible for the gun smuggling between America and Cayman local police have worked in conjunction with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency to use information to identify where the best location to prosecute would be. He noted that when Leslie was successfully prosecuted here for murder and serving a life sentence the cooperation between the law enforcement agencies switched to other priorities.

However, following his release on appeal, the RCIPS informed the US authorities that he was returning to Florida, enabling agents from the ATF to reactivate the existing warrant based on evidence that had been collected in the States.

“Our relationship with the United States in the fight against firearms smuggling is crucial,” Baines told CNS. He explained that it went beyond this particular smuggling ring to sharing intelligence on the trends in the region of how weapons and drugs are being moved around and how all Caribbean law enforcement agencies can best use their resources to tackle what is becoming a serious problem.

He added that the RCIPS has a fast track access to the ATF data-bases and can trace where weapons seized in Cayman originated and in some case where they were purchased and by whom.

The recent boost to police resources, following the decision by the Legislative Assembly to reinstate the RCIPS budget, would allow the police to focus even more on border control and gun smuggling, Baines said. With hundreds of containers coming into the islands, the intelligence gathered through cooperation with American authorities and regional police forces will help his officers and the customs department to use both existing and new resources, such as the scanner and specially trained dogs, more effectively.

Baines explained that the cooperation helps local agencies hone in on the containers more likely to be used by smugglers, and to pick up on illogical or irregular behavior when it comes to shipping patterns. The scanner, he said, would be able to detect firearms no matter what appliances the smugglers chose to hide their contraband in.

Cayman’s most senior officer spoke of the hemorrhaging of weapons from the US into the Caribbean, which he said was a consequence of the clamp down on the drug trade across the Mexican border. “If you squeeze the balloon in one place it pops up somewhere else and it’s currently the Caribbean,” he said, warning that there could be worse violence on the horizon as the exceptionally profitable and inherently more violent cocaine trade shifted into the region.

Baines also pointed to continued efforts by smugglers from Jamaica to bring guns here via canoe but he said the police helicopter was one of the RCIPS' best weapons against them. He said when canoes are spotted by the Air Support Unit the first things people on board the boats throw out are the guns. “We can see that easily as those bags sink,” the commissioner said. “The drugs are often seized because they float but the guns are pitched overboard the minute they realize they could be intercepted.”

Even where weapons are not recovered or where an arrest may not occur because the smugglers are able to make an escape, Baines said the fact that the guns have gone over the side of the canoe and have not made it on to the streets of Cayman can be counted as a success.

Acknowledging the serious local gun problem, Baines noted that it was still evident that the country is not yet awash with firearms. He pointed to active gang members being seized recently with weapons that, although functioning, were faulty and posed a threat to the user, as well as opposing gang members sharing weapons and homemade flare gun conversions being seized that would be extremely dangerous to the person firing them, illustrating that it is still not so easy to acquire a gun in Cayman.

The commissioner told CNS that the RCIPS is far from complacent about the problem and was now heavily focused on gathering intelligence and ensuring the best use of resources to stop the guns getting in.

Related article: US cops arrest freed GT man

See warrant filed in Florida court on US-Cayman gun smuggling below.

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