01/09/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 03/09/2012 05:12 EST

Oscar Bartholomew Funeral: Huge Crowd Expected For Canadian Killed In Grenada Police Beating


CROCHU, Grenada - A distraught mother howled in grief at the sight of her son's open casket Monday as hundreds of people, including Grenada's prime minister, gathered to mourn the "gentle giant" whose senseless death in police custody has enraged the tiny island nation.

As she came upon 39-year-old Oscar Bartholomew, lying in repose at the head of a packed church in the hamlet of Crochu, his stricken mother Andrianne cried out in sorrow as relatives rushed to her side.

"Why, Oscar, why?" she said. "Why? Why? Why? I don't know why."

It's what many are wondering about the death of Bartholmew, a permanent resident of Canada allegedly beaten to death by police on Boxing Day during a visit to his homeland.

Hundreds of people, including numerous relatives and Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, jammed the pews of the large church, while scores stood at the back.

Hundreds more stood outside, many peering inside through the open windows.

As at least one gecko darted along an inside wall, Bartholomew, who lived in Toronto, was eulogized as someone who was kind and loving, and never in trouble.

"He was not a perfect person, our family was never a perfect family," said his brother Peron Taitt, fighting back tears.

"(But) he was an exceptional man with a big heart — always caring for everybody. He loved life."

Roslyn Charles, a friend from Toronto, recalled Bartholomew as "quiet" and hard working.

"I've never seen this guy in any trouble," Charles said.

It is those qualities that have left those who knew him best at a loss to explain the tragedy.

Witnesses have said the incident began when his wife of 10 years, Dolette Cyr-Bartholomew, of Cascapedia-St. Jules, Que., needed to use the washroom, and they decided to stop at the St. David's police station.

Bartholomew gave an exuberant bear hug from behind to a policewoman he mistook for a friend, saying, "I got you today," witnesses said.

The officer called out for help — some said she yelled "rape!" — and other officers rushed to her aid.

Defence lawyer Anslem Clouden said Bartholomew tried to kick an officer and resisted arrest, prompting police to handcuff him and bind his ankles.

The death has sparked an uproar on this tiny Caribbean island over what some allege is systemic police brutality.

His mother and other members of his sprawling extended family, along with supporters, called in vain for murder charges against the officers involved, who have yet to be tried or enter pleas.

When a group of uniformed police, who had been outside directing traffic, came into the church just before the service began, some relatives erupted in anger.

"What are they doing here?" one yelled.

The officers were forced to leave.

Cyr Bartholomew sat stoically in the church with her daughter Jacynthe, who brushed away tears during the service.

She did not speak, but her daughter read a prayer.

Father Anthony Marfo Dwomo spoke of forgiveness during his homily.

During one of the eulogies, punctuated with music that included "Kumbaya," Andrianne Bartholomew begin weeping loudly and calling out in distress.

She later slumped in her seat, resting her head on a relative's shoulder, seemingly exhausted.

At one point, Thomson walked about shaking hands. Also attending was Opposition Leader Keith Mitchell, and the commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force, Willem Thomson.

Five officers charged with manslaughter in the case are expected to make bail on Friday. If convicted of manslaughter, they face a maximum 15 years in prison.

While some Grenadians reject suggestions that police brutality is endemic, many others say there are long-standing problems.

They say police — sometimes when drunk or not in uniform — all too often mete out their own version of justice, and nothing is done about it.

On Sunday, a local politician weighed in, urging the prime minister to order an investigation into all allegations of police brutality over the past two or three years.

Thomson would only say as he left the funeral that violations of human rights would not be tolerated.

Following the two-hour service, relatives carried Bartholomew's casket across the patchy driveway to the graveyard, where hundreds had waited patiently.

It was lowered into the awaiting grave, with Cyr Bartholomew among the first to shovel in some of the red earth piled alongside.

Others chatted and quaffed beers being sold by enterprising roadside vendors, who set up the equivalent of beer tents at the bottom of the church property.