Interview with Attorney Derick Sylvester

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - December 30, 2011

Boxing Day in Grenada was the scene of high controversy, when Oscar Bartholomew, a Grenadian native who was visiting from Canada, died after an alleged incident involving the Royal Grenada Police Force. The police have launched an investigation into the incident, which some charge as police brutality. To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Derick Sylvester, the attorney representing Bartholomew’s wife.

Where do things stand now?

As it stands now, I’ve seen the news reports of the Commissioner of Police, and what he said [last night] was that they have moved two police officers from the police station to another police station to work. So no persons have been suspended from the service, which I think is rather strange, and leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Because at least what I’d expect is that persons would have been suspended, pending an unbiased investigation. The Commissioner of Police said on the news conference to the public that the person who was in charge of the St David’s police station has been moved to another station, and two junior officers. I’m also dissatisfied with that. I’m very concerned – but the family has made contact with who would be flying into Grenada [today].

What is next?

Well, [today] I’m speaking with the Canadian High Commissioners in Trinidad or Barbados, and will be making a specific request from them orally, and subsequently in writing, because I believe that they would need to intervene in one way or another, if the investigation is to be unbiased, fair and transparent.

Have you been contacted by the Canadian government?

No. I haven’t received any communication, but the wife has indicated to me that she has been in constant contact with them during the day [Wednesday] and she is giving them my contact information so they should be contacting me sometime today.

Many are not clear about the exact account of what occurred. Can you clarify it?

What I was told, and that’s from most of the eyewitnesses that were there, and even when I spoke to Mrs. Bartholomew, the wife of the deceased, that herself and her husband were visiting the island, and when they got to St David’s, she wanted to use the bathroom facility, and they thought the safest place to stop would have been the police station. So they stopped, and she went to the station to use the bathroom facility. Thereafter, her husband, he saw a female person whom he thought was his longtime acquaintance, and he went and hugged her. He was not aware that she was a police officer, because most police officers do not wear uniforms in Grenada. And there were four to five plainclothes male officers there. They immediately took him away when he did that, and a struggle ensued where they started beating him. They took him into the police station, and thereafter he was taken to the hospital, where he was in a coma and he died in the hospital subsequently. So one does not know what would have transpired from the time that he was taken outside of the police station, which is 10 to 15 feet from the main road, and later to the hospital. There was a doctor who attended to him at the police station, and his account of events of what he saw was he saw a man who was handcuffed, hand and foot, and bleeding, because of this, with multiple skull fractures, intracranial bleeding and brain hemorrhage. That’s a triple cause of death, given by our pathologist.

How has Mr. Bartholomew’s wife been holding up during this process?

She has been very distraught. She doesn’t want to speak at all on the incident, or to the press, but I coaxed her into speaking to the press yesterday, only as it related to what sort of person her husband was and how she wanted him to be remembered. She was married for 10 years, and has indicated that he has never been in trouble with the law. He has always been a loving person, and even the citizens of the country who knew him, whom I spoke to, indicated that when he visited Grenada annually, and he always visited Grenada, is that he was a giving person, who always brought stuff to persons in the village, and took people around. He was really a loving kind of guy. He was not the kind of person that is prone to any violent activity, or that had any problem with the law.

At this point, what is your view on a potential investigation?

I do not have any confidence that we will have an unbiased investigation, as long as our local law enforcement officers are involved in this matter, because the police station where this allegedly took place, there was no forensic evidence lifted in relation to the alleged crime scene. The police station has continued to operate as per normal. No photographs were taken of the blood spatters in the police station. In relation to the investigation by police, I am fearful that what would occur is that we would have another cover-up, similar to what has happened to incidents in the past, such as a person who was in police custody who died. I’ve heard the police say this is an isolated incident – I’m saying they are strangers to the truth. This is not an isolated incident. I’ve stated before, to other news media that there was a shooting death of a mentally ill man in the parish of St David’s, a few months ago – a detained man was found hanging in a cell. In Carriacou, another man died while in police custody. There’s been numerous incidents of police brutality, and these are just the ones that are mentioned that culminated in the deaths of local persons. There have been numerous recent reports of police brutality, so I know that the commissioner who spoke last night has just been appointed commissioner recently, but he has always been in the service.

If you ultimately find the investigation unsatisfying, what recourse do you intend to take?

If the investigation is not satisfying, what I’m going to do is seek the assistance of the Canadian High Commissioner and the Canadian government, and go far and wide in terms of seeking their assistance, and hope and pray they would give it, if they would be so willing. And once they do, I’m sure they would have an unbiased investigation. I know they would have some hurdles once they got there, but I’m prepared to walk along with them, and to walk with the Director of Public Prosecutions, and that’s the person, constitutionally, who holds the office to ensure that all criminal matters are initiated and proceeded [properly].

Have you had any communication with the Grenadian government?

What I can say to you is that I’ve spoken to the DPP, and he indicated that the person who would be handling the investigation is an officer named Superintendent Anthony Joseph. But when I listened to the news last night, [the commissioner] said the person who is in charge of the investigation is an officer named Ignatius Mason. I am not sure if there are two persons handling the investigation, or if it’s one.

How do you see the investigation proceeding?

What I could say to you that in a small country like Grenada, where you have 100,000 people on 133 square miles, a tri-island state, where the place is so small and almost everyone is inter-related – I’ve been practicing law for 10 years, and I know almost every individual police officer – this is a police force that has 800 persons – including the coast guard, the fire service. It’s a tiny island in the scheme of things. And I have no confidence – absolutely no confidence that this investigation is going to be transparent and fair. I am not saying that they may not charge someone, but what I’m fearful of is that they may charge someone to appease the public. I’m saying there are eyewitnesses who saw in excess of 5 persons dealing with the deceased. So when I heard only 2 officers were transferred, that was a cause for concern. This is a police station that had, at one point in time, nearly 10 to 12 officers on duty. And this is a police station I know well. The police station is adjacent to the courthouse – it’s separated by a wall partition, and I’m at St David’s Court almost fortnightly, and I’m always at the St David’s Police Station.

This has caused controversy abroad – what do you believe is the best course of action for the police force and the government?

Well, I believe that what they should do is take an introspective look, and really revamp the process of recruiting the police force, and revamp how the administration of justice functions in Grenada. And it doesn’t matter who are the likely perpetrators – let the investigatory process be transparent. You can’t have one set of laws for police and one for citizens. If this had occurred in a private dwelling, every person in that private dwelling would have been detained by the police and questioned. This is how many days – it was the 29th, and this is the first time they’ve sought to move anyone from that station to another station, and have not even suspended them pending the investigation. I’m saying that alone is cause for concern, and that was only done after my press conference [yesterday] – at 9AM – the Police Commissioner’s press conference was at 12PM.

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