BY COLIN PERKEL, THE CANADIAN PRESS DECEMBER 26, 2012
Oscar Bartholomew is shown in this undated Facebook memorial page photo. The manslaughter case against five Grenada police officers accused of beating a visitor from Canada to death a year ago remains tied up in legal knots. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Facebook
TORONTO, CANADA — The manslaughter case against five Grenada police officers accused of beating a visitor from Canada to death a year ago remains tied up in legal knots much to the disappointment of his widow.
A stay on their preliminary inquiry is in place while the country’s High Court decides whether to grant a defence request for a coroner’s inquest.
“There is no precedent for this in Grenada,” Christopher Nelson, director of public prosecutions, said in an interview from the capital St. George.
“We’ve never had a case before where there was a criminal process started — namely a preliminary inquiry — and the accused person sought to have a coroner’s inquest instead.”
Prosecutors allege the officers beat Oscar Bartholomew, 39, into a fatal coma last Boxing Day in a cell in the hamlet of St. David’s. Relatives said the altercation occurred after he bear-hugged a plainclothes policewoman he had mistaken for a friend and she yelled, “Rape!”
Bartholomew lived in Toronto but was in his native Grenada to visit family with his wife of 10 years, Dolette Cyr, of Cascapedia-St. Jules, Que.
Angry family and friends wanted the officers charged with murder, and the case prompted street demonstrations against what protesters called endemic police brutality in the tiny Caribbean Island country.
Prime Minister Tillman Thomas was among hundreds who jammed a large church for Bartholomew’s funeral.
“It’s very long,” Cyr, 52, said of the process.
“I hope in the next year, justice will be done in this case. I hope justice is good in Grenada.”
Cyr said she will go back to the country to testify when needed, but would likely visit next spring anyway.
The five officers, all charged with manslaughter, remain suspended at half-pay on bail.
If an inquest is ordered, the charges would have to be withdrawn and the accused reinstated with the Royal Grenada Police Force until the conclusion of the civil hearing.
Lawyer Anslem Clouden, who represents one of those charged, said an inquest would be useful for sorting out the varying roles the accused might have played in Bartholomew’s death.
“The evidence given at the coroner’s inquest would be determinative of the extent of culpability of the alleged offenders,” Clouden said.
A preliminary inquiry before a district magistrate was barely underway last January when the defence said it wanted to go the inquest route.
The defence is relying on the Coroner’s Act, which mandates an inquest when someone dies in a public facility, such as a prison.
The legislation, however, is silent on whether an inquest should take precedence over criminal proceedings, as the defence is arguing.
“Our view is that it cannot and should not (take precedence),” Nelson said.
The hearing before the High Court was argued over three days in October. A ruling could come at any time, those involved said.
“I am troubled with the length of time it takes in this jurisdiction to have a judgment delivered,” Clouden said. “Justice delayed is justice denied and the world is looking in.”
If matters drag on too long, the defence could bring a constitutional challenge to the prosecution, he noted.
A ruling in favour of the state would mean a resumption of the preliminary inquiry — likely to take another year.
Unlike inquests in Canada, however, those in Grenada can return a verdict of murder or manslaughter, leading to criminal charges.
If a coroner’s inquest is held — coincidentally with the same district magistrate acting as coroner — criminal proceedings would be many months away.
“In our view, it’s delaying the inevitable,” Nelson said.