Another chain of custody concern
Second firearm temporarily blocked from being admitted into evidenceSunday, November 28, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
More concerns over the chain of custody of the second of two firearms, along with 32 rounds of ammunition taken from accused Klansman gangsters prevented the items from being admitted into evidence Friday in the ongoing trial of 33 alleged members of the criminal outfit in the Supreme Court.
The development followed objections from defence attorneys who contended that the lead investigator, who is currently testifying, was not able to say what happened to the weapon at the points that it was outside of his custody, suggesting that the evidence may have been tampered with.
The weapon is one of two which made its way into the hands of Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigations (C-TOC) detectives with the help of a former gang member-turned-Crown witness identified as Witness Number One.
The witness, in his testimony, had alleged that he collected ammunition in a bottle from the accused Joseph McDermott and a gun from another accused, Roel Taylor, while in the company of an undercover police investigator whom he had introduced to them as his uncle. He told the court that the bottle contained cornmeal and ammunition.
On Friday the investigator, who took the stand for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, positively identified McDermott and Taylor as the two individuals he had seen in March of 2019 on the occasion when the pistol and ammunition were collected.
He said after leaving the yard where the gun and ammunition were collected, and parting ways with the witness, he proceeded to Caymanas Police Station where he requested a container to put the items in. The investigator said he was given a paper bag, into which he placed the gun, which he identified as a Ruger semi-automatic pistol, and then stapled it before writing some information on it and handing it over with the bottle containing the 32 rounds of ammunition for safekeeping.
According to the detective, he again saw the items on April 1, 2019 when he went back to the Caymanas station and requested that the items be handed back to him. He said he then left the police station and proceeded to the Scenes of Crime office on Spanish Town Road where he asked to speak to the sub-officer on duty. He said after explaining why he was there. the items were taken from him and spread on a table and photographed. The weapon was then swabbed and dusted for fingerprints as well as the beverage bottle. He told the court he was handed an envelope and a paper bag and that he placed the ammunition in the envelope and the firearm into the bag; the beverage bottle was also bagged.
He said he then travelled to the forensic lab at Old Hope Road in St Andrew where he completed a form before the items were inspected by officers there who then handed him a receipt containing a ballistic number. He said he subsequently visited the lab where he requested the ballistic certificate and retrieved the firearm and the ammunition.
Asked by trial judge Chief Justice Bryan Sykes whether he had marked or tagged the firearm when he collected it from the Caymanas station, the detective said he had not tagged the pistol nor the magazine it carried.
Subsequently, when the prosecution asked for the witness to be allowed to identify the bagged items, defence attorneys, led by Kimani Brydson, objected.
“I'm objecting to the witness being allowed to mark any of the contents of that envelope for identification for both the firearm and ammunition to be admitted into evidence,” Brydson said.
Asked, “Why?” by Justice Sykes, Brydson said, “There was a break in the chain of custody, specifically at the point in time this officer is saying the firearm and ammunition was left at the Caymanas Police Station. This officer is not in a position to say what would have happened to these items whilst it was detained at the Caymanas Police Station and the manner in which those items were secured, I'm submitting, is not enough to prevent any kind of tampering to ensure that what is being presented is what was taken into custody.”
In the end, the ballistic certificate and the outer bag with which the firearm had been sealed were admitted into evidence as exhibits while the 32 rounds of ammunition and the firearm were only marked for identification.
Last Thursday, the Crown's attempt to get another weapon — a rifle which the ex-gang member testified that he had volunteered to take to get fixed but instead turned over to police investigators — admitted into evidence was fouled because of similar objections.
Consequently, the prosecution will, based on those developments, have to use another route to get the items tendered into evidence.
The trial will resume tomorrow morning with the investigator continuing his evidence.