The Chateaubelair woman who died Friday, one day after falling ill during a police search of her house, fainted immediately when officers found and showed her a “substance resembling cannabis”, Commissioner of Police, Michael Charles told reporters on Wednesday.
Sylma Thomas, 49, died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital of what was later diagnosed as stroke, two of her siblings told I-Witness News on the weekend.
(Read also: Woman dies after falling ill during police raid)
Her relatives and residents of the North Leeward town have accused police of not acting promptly to provide her with medical attention.
They also said that Thomas was taken to the hospital in a private vehicle, even as a police vehicle was on the scene.
MP for North Leeward, opposition lawmaker Roland “Patel” Matthews, on Monday called for an “immediate investigation” into the case, saying that the police officers seemed to have believed that Thomas was faking her illness.
The police chief told journalists on Wednesday that an investigation will be launched into the development.
He said that members of the Rapid Response Unit, a tactical squad, went to Chateaubelair to execute a search warrant.
“During the search, substance resembling cannabis was found and same was shown to the occupant of the house, and immediately, according to the police present, she fainted.
“Steps were made to revive her. That is, relatives of the lady brought rubbing alcohol, etc., and were rubbing her, and she was then assisted in a transport.
“I was also informed that the police transport was readily available but members of the family stated that they didn’t want her to go in the police transport, hence she went in a private vehicle.
“She was taken to the hospital and she subsequently died,” Charles said.
He said the incident was unfortunate and extended “deepest condolences” to Thomas’ family.
“You know, you cannot understand death, especially in these circumstances; but we will do everything in our powers to assist that family,” Charles said.
He did not say whether police have tested the substance said to have been found at Thomas’ home.
“I am not in a position to say, because after the death, that becomes priority, but the substance is still in the police custody.”
Charles said an investigation would be launched but that he was not in a position at the time to say who will conduct it.
Asked about seemingly conflicting elements of the police and the family’s version of what transpired, Charles said: “Reports that I heard on the street are actually the same thing I am hearing form the police officers. What is different is the time that the lady moved from the home to the hospital.”
Charles said that as of Wednesday, the family had not filed any report with him, neither has the officer-in-charge of the Western Division indicated the filing of any such report.
MP Matthews had also accused the police of harassing residents of the town.
“The police don’t go about harassing people. If people feel that they are harassed, there is the Public Relations and Complaints Department. If they don’t feel comfortable coming to the Public Relations and Complaints Department, they can always go to the police oversight body, which is an independent civilian body to deal with their complaints,” Charles said.
He said that no one likes to be searched, adding that even when police are conducting stop-and-search around carnival time, law-abiding citizens don’t feel “too well” when they are searched.
“Nobody like to be searched really, but police are not harassing people; they are doing their job legally,” Charles said.
He, however, agreed that the approach of the police, at times, leaves a lot to be desired.
“From time to time, I will get complaints from citizens [about] the way police approach them, especially traffic officers.
“It’s not for the want of teaching. We do a lot,” Charles said, mentioning the efforts of the Public Relations and Complaints Department and the Police Training School.
“Every person is a different individual but our aim is to serve the people who pay us, and that is the general public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Charles said traffic police are some of the most important officers, as far as the image of the Police Force is concerned.
“If the police is, [as we say] colloquially, hoggish, the person who he deals with will see the whole Police Force as pigs. If he deals with them in a civilized manner, the general public will see the police as civilized people, and this is the type of image we want to get across,” Charles said.