01/10/2012 05:07 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Oscar Bartholomew Death: Tillman Thomas, Grenada PM, Fends Off Calls For Inquiry Into Alleged Police Abuses


CROCHU, Grenada - While he says Grenada will not tolerate any human rights abuses, the prime minister of the tiny Caribbean island is refusing to order a full-scale inquiry into allegations of systemic police misconduct.

The death of Oscar Bartholomew, a visitor from Toronto who prosecutors say was beaten to death by police on Boxing Day, has sparked calls for an independent probe.

"I can't give you any assurance there will be an inquiry," Prime Minister Tillman Thomas told The Canadian Press.

"There may be abuse or excess and that is something we're going to look into."

Thomas rejected the idea that police brutality, as many on the island allege, is widespread.

Instead, he called the allegations Bartholomew was beaten to death "more or less" an isolated case.

"This is really not a feature of the Grenadian society," he said.

"Of course, it's an unfortunate thing, but it's not something normal or a regular thing in Grenada."

Five police officers face manslaughter charges, accused of beating Bartholomew, 39, into a coma on Boxing Day and leaving him in a cell after binding his hands and feet.

The incident began when Bartholomew, described as a "gentle giant" known for having a toothpick in his mouth along with a big smile, gave a policewoman a bear hug from behind and she yelled for help.

The defence maintains he tried to kick an officer and resisted arrest, but one lawyer conceded the officers and Bartholomew may have been intoxicated.

Anslem Clouden, who represents one of the accused officers, said Tuesday he would recommend an independent inquiry into the Royal Grenada Police Force when he meets with Thomas on Friday.

The lawyer, who practised for years in Nova Scotia, said there are real and long-standing problems with abuses that need addressing, perhaps with external assistance.

"This is not an isolated incident," Clouden said.

"(Police) can transgress with impunity."

Thomas said he believes in transparency, and that the law would have to take its course in the Bartholomew matter.

At the same time, he said, violations of rights would not be tolerated.

"We will make sure to do what is necessary to minimize all forms of abuses in the force," he said.

"Human rights is something that we are really committed to (and) anyone who violates the law, be it police or not, he or she would have to stand the consequences."

As a sign of both the emotional and political charge set off by the death, Thomas and the commissioner of the police, Wilan Thompson, both attended Bartholomew's jam-packed funeral Monday.

Some in attendance expressed displeasure that the prime minister attended with the commissioner.

"I don't think it's fine to have the chief of police walking in with the prime minister when we do have such a contentious issue to deal with," said Ray Caesar.

"It sends the wrong message."

The accused officers, who face 15 years in prison if convicted, have yet to enter a plea and none of the allegations have been tested in court.

The men are expected to be released on bail Friday after posting bail worth about C$38,000 secured by a lien on their property.

The director of public prosecutions has warned of vigilantism and further anti-police protests but Clouden said that was unlikely.