TORONTO – Four Grenadian police officers face what prosecutors call unprecedented criminal charges in the beating death of a visitor from Canada during the Christmas holidays six years ago, a case that sparked widespread anger and grief on the Caribbean island.
The manslaughter charges come after a coroner’s inquest jury last week returned manslaughter verdicts against the officers in the killing of Oscar Bartholomew on Boxing Day 2011.
Christopher Nelson, the country’s director of public prosecution, said on Tuesday that the coroner committed the officers for trial at the country’s High Court as required by the inquest verdict, and the hearing would likely begin in January.
“Citizens were still looking out for justice to be done,” Nelson told The Canadian Press from Grenada. “There was a perception that nothing was happening or nothing will happen, so this decision will reassure the public and the international community that our justice system is working, albeit the wheels are turning slowly.”
Bartholomew, 39, a native Grenadian who lived in Toronto, and his wife of 10 years, Dolette Cyr, of Cascapedia-St. Jules, Que., were visiting the country when they stopped outside a police station in St. David’s so she could use a washroom. Witnesses have said Bartholomew gave a female officer he thought he recognized one of his trademark bear hugs, but she cried out for help and her colleagues attempted to arrest him.
Bartholomew’s behaviour “alarmed” the officers, Nelson said.
“It was a bit of outrage in relation to that conduct and the initial resistance of Mr. Bartholomew in submitting to arrest that led to the frenzied action of the police officers and their going overboard,” Nelson said.
Under the Grenadian system, the inquest, a civil hearing, is in effect treated as a preliminary inquiry and the evidence heard can be used at the criminal trial. Nelson said the criminal manslaughter charges were the first of their kind laid against on-duty officers in the country.
Cyr, who testified at the inquest a year ago, said she was glad about the charges but said she believed the officers had committed a more severe offence.
“It’s good for Grenada,” Cyr, 57, said from her home in Quebec. “(But) it’s not just manslaughter, it’s murder.”
Cyr also expressed disappointment that the officer in charge at the time has escaped any liability for what occurred, an issue that also concerned the inquest jury.
Although Grenada’s current penalty for manslaughter is life behind bars, the officers face the possibility of a maximum sentence of 15 years that was in place at the time of Bartholomew’s death.
The incident prompted protests against police brutality many said was widespread and hundreds of people turned out for Bartholomew’s funeral, including his distraught mother.
Public anger over the killings were further inflamed when the High Court quashed manslaughter charges initially laid against five officers in 2012, a decision overturned earlier this year on appeal. However, the inquest was so advanced, it made sense to await its outcome, Nelson said.
“It was always our intention to prosecute,” Nelson said. “We got what we wanted really.”
The inquest also found a fifth officer originally charged — Shaun Ganness — bore no responsibility in the killing.
Anslem Clouden, a lawyer who represents one of the accused, said he had not decided how his client would plead but said he hoped the proceedings would move quickly.
The four constables, Edward Gibson, Roddy Felix, Kenton Hazzard and Wendell Sylvester, were on bail. Nelson said he hoped the commissioner of police would now suspend them.
In an interview in 2012, Bartholomew’s mother, Andrianne Bartholomew, expressed profound grief at her loss.
“They beat my child to death,” she had said at her home. “They killed my baby, my last baby. They killed him.”
Andrianne Bartholomew killed herself last year.