Five Grenadian police officers have been charged with manslaughter in the death of 39-year-old Canadian Oscar Bartholomew, and the man’s family plans to file a civil lawsuit against the state, the family’s lawyer says.
“It’s been an emotional and trying time for the family,” said Derick Sylvester, adding that Bartholomew’s mother was so upset after meeting with government officials on Friday that she had to be hospitalized for stress. She was released Saturday.
Police had earlier charged Constable Kenton Hazzard and Rural Constable Wendell Sylvester with manslaughter in the death of Bartholomew, who died at hospital hours after he was arrested and allegedly beaten at the St. David’s Police Station.
A police statement said Constables Edward Gibson, Shaun Ganness and Ruddy Felix have also been charged with manslaughter.
The police have resisted calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the circumstances that led to Bartholomew’s death.
His family has accused the officers of beating him to death while in custody, an incident that has sparked public outrage and protest demonstration.
A post mortem later revealed that he died from punctured organs, a fractured skull and bleeding from the head.
But a private post mortem conducted on behalf of the family indicated that Bartholomew, who was visiting family in Grenada with his wife, indicated he suffered multiple injuries to other parts of his body, including a broken hand and broken ribs.
Sylvester said a witness, who was in the police station when Bartholomew was arrested, has given a sworn statement saying the dead man was bound and beaten by five officers.
Bartholomew reportedly went into a coma and died at the General Hospital 24 hours after he was arrested following an incident in which he apparently mistook a female police officer for an old friend.
Bartholomew, a resident of Toronto, was visiting relatives in his homeland over the Christmas holiday.
The officers’ possible penalty, if they are found guilty, ranges from a fine to a maximum of 15 years in prison.
The terms of the civil suit will be determined by the court, Sylvester said, but he added that it can be challenging to recoup damages in a “small, poor country”’ such as Grenada with a population of just 110,000.
“It can be difficult to get the payment, even when it’s due to you,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Peter David said Grenada remains an “extremely safe destination,” despite the negative publicity surrounding Bartholomew’s death.
David, who met with the dead man’s wife, said that despite the outcome of the current investigations, the government intends to ensure that the island remains a safe place for residents and tourists alike.
“This is a tragedy on all counts, especially for the Bartholomew family,’’ said David, who is also minister of Civil Aviation and Culture.
“Like all Grenadians, including all my colleagues in government, we would have preferred this not to have happened to anyone, particularly to a national who was visiting with his wife.
“But from the perspective of visitor safety, and in comparison to other tourist-dependent nations of the world, Grenada still is – and will continue to be – an extremely safe destination for travelers from around the world,” he added.