Sandhill man spared jail over flare gun

Sandhill resident and Fisheries Department officer Andrew Baptist is guilty of keeping a prohibited firearm tonight, but he is not in jail, and for that he can thank Police Corporal Gino Peck. Peck’s infamous 2013 case, in which the Director of Public Prosecution cited a little-known provision of the Summary Jurisdiction (Procedure) Act that gives the Magistrate discretion to refrain from imposing jail time for non-indictable matters, is now precedent and Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer used it today to give Baptist a fine on the charge instead of sending him to jail. In March of 2012, Baptist’s home was searched by the Gang Suppression Unit  (GSU) who said they were acting on information that a man fitting his description was seen walking on the highway with a sawed-off gun in his hand.But they only found a flare gun used in distress by fishermen which can also be easily bought in the store. According to Baptist, when he was working at Saint George’s Caye, he had used the gun when he and a team were stranded at sea to signal for help. They were rescued and his boss gave it to him as a souvenir of that experience. However, he wound up charged for it along with his girlfriend who was not even at home. Her charges were quickly vlcsnap-2015-11-26-11h28m21s445dropped but Baptist faced seven years behind bars. Ruling today, the Senior Magistrate said that while he was clearly guilty, she considered that the GSU were looking for something else and were ordered to lay charges; that the item is in her view unfortunately listed as a prohibited weapon under the Firearms Act; and the circumstances of his possession of it.  She concluded that while she might take heat for this one, the Peck case is precedent and there was no evidence of Baptist having any intention to use the flare gun to commit any criminal offense or harm anyone. Baptist was fined $1,000 to be paid by February 28, 2016 in default, one year imprisonment, leaving him relieved, slightly shocked, and free to take care of his 2 daughters.

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