The family of a Toronto man who died after an alleged beating by police in Grenada plans to sue the force there for wrongful death.

Derick Sylvester, the lawyer representing the family of Oscar Bartholomew, will seek damages for the widow and his three children. Five Grenadian police officers are charged with manslaughter in the death of Bartholomew, and made their first court appearances in St. George's, the capital, on Tuesday.

Bartholomew, 39, died in hospital Dec. 27 after an incident at a Grenada police station the day before.

The five officers appeared before a judge at St. George's Magistrate Court. It was the first working day in Grenada since any of them were charged.

They did not enter pleas.

Maximum sentence 15 years

If found guilty in a criminal trial, they would each face up to 15 years in prison, Sylvester said. The minimum penalty would be a fine at the discretion of the court.

Bartholomew, 39, who lived in Toronto for 10 years, was visiting family in Grenada for the holidays. He was born in the Caribbean island nation.

Bartholomew's family has accused members of the Grenada police of beating him into a coma on Dec. 26, after he allegedly mistook a plainclothes female officer at a police station for an old friend and lifted her off the ground in a bear hug.

Relatives said the Toronto man had stopped in at the police station in the town of St. David's so that his wife could use the restroom.

Two separate autopsies concluded he died Dec. 27 as a result of brain trauma.

'An introspective look'

Officers Edward Gibson, Shaun Ganness, Ruddy Felix, Kenton Hazzard and Wendell Sylvester are charged with manslaughter.

"It's the first time in our history that policemen are charged under these circumstances," Sylvester said.

The case now moves to a different jurisdiction.

Grenada police Supt. Dunbar Belfon said the preliminary inquiry will be heard Friday in St. David's, where the alleged incident took place.

The five officers were remanded to Richmond Hill prison until then, as the court in St. George's did not have the authority to grant bail.

Belfon said he expects any bail motions will be brought Friday.

Sylvester said Grenada is a peaceful country, and he hopes that the incident will allow police officers and their superiors to take "an introspective look" into recruiting practices and how police deal with citizens.

"Despite the fact that this was indeed a tragedy, I believe some good will no doubt come out of it," he said.

Sylvester said he hopes the trial will be the beginning of a healing process where police and citizens respect each other. "We have to live together in the same community."

Protest outside courtroom

About 100 people were waiting outside the courthouse entrance to catch a glimpse of the accused, but freelance reporter Nicole Best said police brought the officers in through the back of the courthouse.

300-grenada-courthouse

About 100 people wait outside St. George's Magistrate Court to catch a glimpse of the accused, but police brought the officers in through the back of the courthouse. (CBC)

Bartholomew's father, Peter Hypolite, said from Ajax Tuesday that he can't understand why his son was killed when he grew up around police officers; Hypolite, an uncle and a brother were all on the Grenada force.

"He [is] around police and he knows better than not do anything to violate the law … and they do that to the guy," Hypolite said. "I just can't understand what caused that to happen."

Solomon Hypolite, a brother of Bartholomew's who lives in Mississauga, Ont., said he hopes the manslaughter charges are changed to murder charges.

"It's very upsetting and the more I think about it, the more senseless it is for me," he said.

Hypolite plans to travel to Grenada on Wednesday and will attend the funeral Jan. 9.

"Just a simple pit stop can cost you your life," he said. "I'm sure the reason he stopped at a police station is because he thought that that was the safest place to stop."

 

           

With files from The Canadian Press