In the end, it may be that one of Oscar Bartholomew’s trademark bear hugs sparked the tragic chain of events that led to his beating death in a police station in a quiet hamlet Grenadians view as the cradle of their revolution.
While much still remains to come out about what happened, The Canadian Press (based on several interviews) has pieced together an account of what some say led to the death of the visitor from Canada – a death that has sparked an uproar over alleged police brutality on this island.
“They beat my child to death,” Andrianne Bartholomew, his grieving mother, said Saturday.
“They killed my baby, my last baby. They killed him.”
Mr. Bartholomew, 39, a native Grenadian who lived in Toronto, and his wife of 10 years, Dolette Cyr Bartholomew, of Cascapedia-St. Jules, Que., were visiting over the holiday season.
It was a trip they had made several times since they met during one of her visits and fell in love.
While driving Boxing Day, Ms. Cyr Bartholomew needed to use a washroom, and the couple stopped at the St. David’s police station, where she went inside to use the facilities.
Thinking he recognized a uniformed policewoman as a friend, Mr. Bartholomew got out of his car.
“He was always loving to his people,” his 71-year-old mother said of the youngest of her four children.
“Whenever he meet his people, he always hugged them and give them a cheer.”
Outside the station, Mr. Bartholomew grabbed the policewoman from behind in an exuberant embrace, witnesses said. He lifted her off her feet, saying: “I got you today.”
Some said the officer yelled out she was being raped.
Defence lawyer, Anslem Clouden, who represents one of the accused officers, would only say Saturday that the officer “cried out for help.”
At that point, a colleague in a parked police car came to her assistance. The incident began to escalate.
A second officer, observing the situation from the police station balcony, came running to assist.
Police allege Mr. Bartholomew tried to kick the officer. When they tried to apprehend him, they maintain he resisted.
“Tempers flared on all sides,” the defence lawyer said.
Three other officers joined the fray and held him down as they struggled to handcuff him.
A senior officer ordered a junior to use his belt do tie Mr. Bartholomew’s feet together because he was kicking out, the lawyer said, citing witness statements.
Within minutes, Mr. Bartholomew was in a coma and lay dying.
Ms. Cyr Bartholomew, who did not see much of what happened to her husband, refused to discuss the matter Saturday as she prepared for his funeral, to be held Monday.
“It’s a very bad time,” she said.
Mr. Bartholomew’s cousin, Jeslyn Pierre, recalled how she rushed straight to the hospital in the capital of St. George’s on the evening of Dec. 26 after receiving a call saying Mr. Bartholomew had been beaten.
His head was completely bandaged and he had a big cut on an arm.
“I couldn’t believe that this thing was so bad: I saw him lying on the bed – a lifeless body, and I started bawling,” Ms. Pierre said Saturday.
“I said: ‘After you kill him, you have police guarding the dead body?’” Ms. Pierre told an officer keeping watch.
An independent autopsy found he died of severe trauma to the head and several injuries to the body, the family said. A state autopsy report came to similar but less detailed conclusions.
Mr. Clouden said Mr. Bartholomew and the officers may have been inebriated.
The officers have admitted to having been drunk the previous night, the lawyer said, but it’s not clear whether they were intoxicated at the time – the second day of a three-day holiday weekend – as some suspect.
“They themselves were in a festive mood prior to the incident,” is how Mr. Clouden described the officers – one a married father of nine, another a rookie who had just joined the force.
Either way, those who knew Mr. Bartholomew, a father of three, say they cannot believe he was that aggressive, saying it would have been completely out of character.
“If Oscar was where there was any fighting, he’d say let us get out from here,” his mother said, as she pared parts of dark red sorrel flowers on the porch of her small home.
A steady trickle of relatives and friends came to offer support.
Ms. Pierre said she could not begin to imagine what happened because Mr. Bartholomew, whom she considered almost a son, was such a “quiet, loving” person.
“That was high-class murder. I can’t see how policemen, when they are there to protect you, and you fall in their hands, and they murder you.”
It’s a question many in Grenada, including the country’s prime minister, are asking.
At a hearing on Friday, the five officers, charged with manslaughter, were ordered released on bail of 100,000 East Caribbean dollars (about $38,000 Canadian) and other conditions on Jan. 13.
The men, 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 bail decision further incensed many Grenadians, who have been protesting what they see as endemic police brutality.
Given a history of police misconduct among members of the Royal Grenada Police Force, Mr. Clouden called the charges appropriate and said he hoped the incident would be a catalyst for change.
“Out of evil cometh good,” he said.