By Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, lawyer
Editor’s note: Bacchus-Baptiste told the media, on Tuesday, that she had sent a copy of this letter to
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, as Minister of National Security, Director of Public Prosecutions, Sejilla McDowall, and Commissioner of Police, Colin John.
I act on behalf of Mr. Carly John of Owia and I am instructed that on Thursday 9th September, 2021, about 3:00 p.m, he was at the protest action at the vegetable market, Kingstown in solidarity with the unions. As he was standing there, it appears that a commotion began and a female police officer in the Black Squad uniform, a Rackel Coombs viciously chucked my client at the throat. My client reacted instinctively trying to get her hand away from his throat when 3 or 4 male police officers grabbed my client and P.C. 700 Verrol Sam mercilessly held my client in a chokehold causing him to almost lose consciousness as he struggled to breathe. My client’s life was spared by the intervention of a bystander and the rebuke of the general public, assisted by ASP Simmons who eventually succeeded in getting Officer Sam to release his chokehold. My client had to be rushed to the hospital under police escort where he was given oxygen and medication including an asthmatic ventilator. My client sustained grave injury and pain.
Every police officer must take an oath to “discharge all duties thereof faithfully according to law” (S.8 Police Act). The “primary function of the force” is the “prevention of crime”, which is of even “greater importance” than the detection and arrest of criminals, and to this end, the efforts of the said force shall be chiefly directed (Rule 3 Police Regulations).
By Rule 7 of the said Police Regulations, police has a duty to avoid altercation and any argument with the public and must receive any information or suggestion offered to them courteously.
No matter however desirable, it is to prevent crime, not even the most culpable shall be proceeded against from questionable motives or by unjustifiable means (Rule 47).
Every member of the force in apprehending offenders against the law “shall act” with great caution and prudence! (R. 52)
Constables (and other police) must be particularly cautious not to interfere unnecessarily with the public or use any irritating language even towards those who maybe offending against the law. In particular (c) Refrain from striking or using force towards any person in his charge or other than may be absolutely necessary… strictly in his own defence (e) a police must ignore silly or ignorant observations directed towards him (Rule 57).
Being cognisant of the above all police everywhere must be aware of the grave dangers of “chokehold” or “stranglehold”.
Wikipedia states, “a chokehold, stranglehold is a general term for a grappling hold that critically reduces or prevents either air (choking) or blood (strangling) from passing through the neck of an opponent. The restriction maybe one or both and depends on the hold used and for the choke and the reaction of the victim. While the time it takes for the choke to render an opponent unconscious, varies depending on the type of choke, the average across all has been recorded as 9 seconds. The lack of blood or air often leads to unconsciousness or even death…” “Chokeholds are considered superior to brute force manual strangling”. This makes chokeholds absolutely dangerous!
I am therefore calling on the Honourable Prime Minister and Minister of National Security – Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the Commissioner of Police – Collin John and the Director of Public Prosecutions – Sejilla McDowall to:
- Immediately unreservedly condemn and abolish any chokeholding of citizens by police.
- Investigate and issue maximum charges against the police PC 700 – Verrol Sam leading to his dismissal from the force
- Liaise with the Honourable Attorney General to adequately compensate Carly John for his injuries and loss.
- Release a statement reinforcing the provisions of the Police Act and Regulations referred to by me above demanding all police strictly adhere or face the consequences.
- Condemn the spate of spurious charges levied against protestors for exercising the right to demonstrate Criminal charges must not be used as a means to intimidate and stifle lawful protest.
- Acknowledge receipt of this letter and effectively respond to me within 7 days hereafter.
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