A Chateaubelair woman died in hospital on Friday, one day after falling ill during a police raid of her house.
Neighbours and relatives of the woman, 49-year-old Sylma “Codo” Thomas, told I-Witness News that police did not act promptly to provide her with medical attention when she suffered what later was diagnosed as a stroke after the raid began sometime around 2:45 p.m. Thursday.
Thomas died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) on Friday, her younger brother, Alfred Howe, told I-Witness News in Chateaubelair on Saturday.
He said he was among persons looking on as members of the Rapid Response Unit (“Black Squad”), who were armed with small arms and M4 rifles, conducted the raid.
The lawmen, which Howe said included one officer in plainclothes, were reportedly searching for illegal guns and ammunition and money at a house where Thomas lived with her boyfriend.
He said that a police officer, one “Sergeant Bailey”, asked if Thomas’ sister was among the crowd.
Howe told I-Witness News that he told the sergeant that he was Thomas’ brother, but the officer did not respond to him.
Howe, a veteran of the British Army who has served in Germany, England, Poland and Iraq, said he suspected something was wrong because the officers were fidgeting and looking around nervously.
He said he then told the officers that if his sister needs a doctor, they should call one.
Howe said the police sergeant asked him if he is a doctor.
“I said, ‘No.’ and he said, she is not dead; she doesn’t need a doctor.”
Howe said he asked the sergeant if a doctor is only needed when one dies. He said he then decided to check on Thomas to see if all was well.
“She looked droopy. She was sitting at the edge of the bed. She couldn’t hold up herself and another officer [was supporting her]. She couldn’t speak. You hardly could have heard what she was saying. The left side was numb and she couldn’t move; she couldn’t stand,” Howe told I-witness News.
He said when he asked his sister what had happened, she said that the police sergeant was “harassing” her, asking about guns, ammunition and money and that she had collapsed.
Howe told I-Witness News that when he saw the condition of his sister, he determined that she needed to see a doctor.
However, the police did not respond when he asked them to use one of their vehicles to take her to the hospital, Howe said.
He said a police officer helped him to place Thomas in a private vehicle that took her to the Chateaubelair hospital.
She was later transferred to MCMH in Kingstown, where she died on Friday.
Howe said that his sister did not have any pre-existing medical conditions and was well on Thursday when he last saw her earlier that day.
“If they didn’t go and harass the lady that would not have happened. I am not saying that they weren’t doing their duty but the police officers, they need to approach people in a better way than harassing people,” he told I-Witness News.
“The Police need to conduct their search better than this one. Because if they continue like that, there would be a lot of losses to families,” Howe further said, adding, “And we need some solution to this problem.”
“It is taking a toll on the family and we are not satisfied with what is going on. We need justice and everything like that.”
Vanessa Browne, who spoke to I-Witness News separately in Chateaubelair on Saturday, corroborated Howe’s version of the event.
Browne said she saw police going into Thomas’ house sometime around 2:45 p.m. on Thursday.
She said Thomas was not at home at the time, but went to the house after she was told that police were there.
Browne told I-Witness News that she had recently had surgery and it, therefore, took her some time to walk from her house to Thomas’.
“When me ah tek (take) me time walk come up, me nah see no sight ah Codo come out the house up to now,” she said.
She further said that when the police sergeant inquired about whether Thomas’ sister was among onlookers at the raid, he also said that Thomas wanted her sister to do something for her.
Browne said that when the police realized that Thomas’ sister was not among the crowd, they called another lady.
The lady later told the crowd that Thomas had fallen ill.
Browne said she left the scene before Thomas was taken to hospital.
“It is sad because everybody is close; we always make jokes,” she said.
“It is a shocking death to everyone,” Browne further told I-Witness News.
And, Mida Chance, one of Thomas’ sisters, said she was on her way back to Chateaubelair when she was telephoned about the raid.
Chance said that when she visited Thomas in hospital, Thomas told her, “’Is Bailey, he come and harass me, say they looking for gun and money.’”
She said that Thomas then stopped speaking and was knocking the left side of her head.
Thomas’ mouth was twisted and she couldn’t move, Chance said, adding that her condition then worsened.
“I don’t like how my sister died. I am not really satisfied with that,” she said, adding that the police have raided her own house several times.
“Partly every morning, when you do wake, police at your door and I don’t know why. I don’t see the reason why,” she said.
Chance also said that Thomas was her normal self ahead of the incident on Thursday.
“[She woke] the morning and she washed. She was singing and everything — hearty and strong…
“Is the harassment from the police! She pressure went up! The way how they harass her and she pressure went up and she collapsed,” she further said.
Chance said her sister was not hypertensive.
“These things can’t be right, and then there is no justice,” she told I-Witness News.
“You don’t get any justice in this place. St. Vincent is now divided into two halves. The poor are suffering right now, and the rich are living well.
“… and this is the only place where police can come and do as they feel like, and who wants to laugh will laugh. These things are not right,” Chance told I-Witness News in dialect.
Commissioner of Police Michael Charles told I-Witness News Sunday night that the police will meet on Monday to try to determine the facts surrounding the incident.
Charles said he was notified of the development on Saturday, and has been hearing a lot of different reports about what reportedly took place.