Grenada to start inquest into Canadian man's 2011 beating death
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Oscar Bartholomew in Crochu, Grenada, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. (Colin Perkel / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Linda Straker And David McFadden, The Associated Press
Published Monday, March 18, 2013 2:30PM EDT
ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada -- Grenada will hold a coroner's inquest into the December 2011 death of a Canadian man after a judge quashed manslaughter charges against five police officers accused of beating him into a fatal coma in a cell, authorities said Monday.
Relatives say Oscar Bartholomew and his wife were visiting his native Grenada for the Christmas holidays when they stopped at the St. David's police station so she could use the bathroom. While his wife was inside, they say he mistook a plainclothes female police officer for an old friend and bearhugged her in front of the station in a southeastern corner of the island.
A group of male officers rushed out of the station when the plainclothes policewoman shouted "Rape!" Prosecutors allege the officers detained the 39-year-old Toronto carpenter and beat him in a holding cell. Relatives have accused police of leaving him bleeding in the cell for hours that Dec. 26 afternoon before calling an ambulance at the insistence of his wife.
An independent autopsy found that Bartholomew died of trauma to the head and sustained multiple injuries to his body. A state autopsy report came to similar conclusions.
But on Friday, a high court justice withdrew the criminal charges against the five officers accused of beating Bartholomew. The judge agreed with defence lawyers that the island's Coroner's Act demands that an inquest be held for people who die suspiciously in public places.
In Grenada, inquests can return a verdict and lead to criminal charges.
From her home in Cascapedia, Quebec, Bartholomew's widow, Dolette Cyr, said she was "very surprised" by the judge's ruling but said she was hopeful that the coroner's inquest would lead to fresh criminal charges against the officers.
"I hope for Grenada and I hope for my husband, too, that it's possible to reverse this decision," Cyr said in a brief phone interview.
The family's defence lawyer, Derick Sylvester, said the matter is far from over. He said criminal "charges could be refiled" after the inquest is completed.
Public Prosecutor Christopher Nelson said his office is weighing its legal options and a decision about how to proceed will likely be announced later this week. He said there was no precedent in Grenada for ordering a coroner's inquest while a criminal case was already under way.
With the criminal charges withdrawn, the five officers were reinstated in the Royal Grenada Police Force and must be paid back wages, said Anselm Clouden, a defence lawyer for one of the accused men. While on bail, the suspended officers received half of their wages.
When the officers were granted bail in January 2012, hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse to protest the ruling, insisting the case highlighted chronic problems with police brutality on the island. Grenada's prime minister, the police commissioner and hundreds of other Grenadians attended Bartholomew's burial on the island several weeks after his death.