01/06/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 03/06/2012 05:12 EST

Officers charged in beating death of Toronto man to appear in Grenada court

ST. DAVID'S, Grenada - Five police officers charged with beating a visitor from Canada to death were granted bail Friday despite prosecution warnings of public unrest and potential vigilantism on this lush tropical island.

The magistrate's decision further angered the scores of protesters outside the courthouse, who maintained police brutality was widespread.

"It is widespread around the country," said an agitated Alrick Cuffie. "We need our justice. This is wrong."

The alleged Boxing Day beating of Oscar Bartholomew, 39, who was visiting his native Grenada from Toronto, has sparked fury and protests on the island nation best known in Canada as a tourist haven.

In opposing bail, prosecutor Christopher Nelson said the case had "generated excitement."

"The events that have brought us here moved citizens to demonstrate," Nelson told Magistrate Nevlyn John.

"To release the accused on bail at this time is likely to lead to public disorder."

Using yellow tape, dozens of police and paramilitary officers cordoned off the cement-block courthouse adjacent to the police station in the hamlet of St. David's where Bartholomew was allegedly beaten.

As the chatter from protesters and other residents seeped into the packed courtroom, Nelson warned of the prospect of vigilante justice against the men, one a married father of nine.

But defence lawyers argued those considerations had no place in the judicial system, and urged John to set aside any notions of "marketplace justice" in coming to her decision.

"We are not ruled by the public mob," lawyer Anslem Clouden, who trained in Canada, said afterward.

"I thought it was somewhat out of step to involve the public demonstrations and outcry."

The constables — Edward Gibson, Shaun Ganness, Roddy Felix, Kenton Hazzard and Wendell Sylvester — neatly dressed in plain pastel-coloured shirts and dress pants, did not speak or enter a plea to the manslaughter charge they face.

The magistrate, who delivered her decision immediately after the lawyers had finished their submissions, ordered the men released Jan. 13 if they can raise secured surety of 100,000 East Caribbean dollars (about C$38,000).

They will also have to surrender any travel documents and stay away from the St. David's police station to which they were attached.

Relatives said Bartholomew, a permanent resident of Toronto, was beaten into a coma on Boxing Day after he hugged a plainclothes policewoman he'd mistaken for a friend.

He had apparently stopped at the police station in St. David's because his wife needed to use the restroom.

He died a day later in hospital. His funeral is to be held Monday.

The case has touched a nerve on this small island, with demonstrators demanding an end to what they say is endemic police brutality. Some have expressed outrage the officers weren't charged with murder.

One man outside the courthouse carried photographs of his body sporting numerous bruises he said were inflicted by police for no reason. Several others wanted to recount their stories of what they said was police misconduct.

However, some in the crowd said it was unfair to paint all members of the Royal Grenada Police Force with the brutality brush and called the Bartholomew case isolated.

One St. David's police sergeant said people had good reason to be angry and upset, but said he could not believe the incident was totally unprovoked.

"There must have been something else that caused it to happen," the officer said, asking that he not be identified.

Grenada's prime minister has promised a thorough investigation, but said there was no reason for tourists to be nervous about visiting the island, which he described as the safest destination in the Caribbean.

Clouden urged the government of Grenada to establish a Caribbean-Canadian commission of inquiry under an eminent jurist in an effort to maintain good relations with Canada and to come up with better police protocols.

John Babcock, a spokesman for Diane Ablonczy, Canada's minister of state of foreign affairs, expressed condolences to Bartholomew's family and friends.

"Our consular officials continue to provide assistance to the family during this difficult time and are co-operating with local authorities," Babcock said.

A Facebook page has been set up in memory of Bartholomew.

"May he rest in peace and may justice be served," the page reads.