Bahamas officials probe deaths of 2 in custody


Associated Press

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 6:34 PM

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Authorities in the Bahamas are investigating the deaths of two men being held in police custody and have suspended six officers, police said Wednesday.

Pathologists found that Aaron Rolle, 20, died from hemorrhaging and a ruptured intestine caused by blunt force trauma to the chest. Rolle had been arrested on charges of breaking into a home and died Feb. 9 at a police station.

Pathologists determined that Jamie Smith, 35, died from asphyxiation the day before at a different police station. Smith had been arrested on charges of attempted armed robbery.

The deaths have angered many Bahamians, and dozens of protesters gathered Wednesday outside Parliament in the capital of Nassau to demand action amid accusations of police brutality.

Among them was Earla Dorch-Smith, Jamie Smith's mother.

"He walked in there a healthy person. He has never had any problems with breathing," she said. "He should not die like that, and I won't allow his death to be in vain."

Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade has not issued a statement and did not return requests for comment.

Anthony Ferguson, assistant police commissioner, also declined comment. "I don't know what the commission will do," he said. "At this point, I can say nothing further."

The human rights group Family of All Murder Victims helped organize the protest outside Parliament, with demonstrators holding signs and screaming slogans as politicians entered a session at the House of Assembly.

"These families want the truth," said Khansi Gibson, the group's director. "Someone cannot go into custody and die. Someone should be brought before the court and charged."

Amnesty International also has called for an investigation into the deaths, saying accountability is needed in police abuse cases. The organization noted that the Coroner's Court, which is responsible for investigating the deaths, faces serious backlogs because of insufficient resources.

"Authorities in the Bahamas should seriously consider the establishment of an independent body to investigate police abuses," said Javier Zuniga, special adviser at Amnesty International. "The continuous lack of justice for unlawful killings at the hands of the police shows that the authorities are not doing enough to ensure that investigations are thorough, independent, impartial and timely."

In an earlier case, a Bahamas police officer was convicted last June for the 2007 death of an inmate while in custody.