Man dies while in police custody Print E-mail
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Thursday, 01 March 2018 00:00

Three police officers from the Stann Creek district will face disciplinary charges for the untimely passing of 44 year-old Humphrey Mitchel, a resident of Sarawee. Those officers have reported to their superiors that he was in their detention, and while he was being transferred, via police mobile, to the Dangriga Police Station, he jumped out of the moving vehicle. He suffered serious head and bodily injuries which claimed his life. The Professional Standards Branch believes that the officers could have taken steps to secure Mitchel while he was in their custody.

The official police version of events are that at around 2:25 p.m., on Saturday, February 24, 2018, they detained Mitchel, a Jamaican, in his home village. That was done on the strength of a committal warrant. His family says that he had outstanding court fees that he owed due to a personal dispute with another man. Mitchell is the owner of T&H Cool Spot, a restaurant and bar in the village that specialized in fried chicken wings. There was allegedly one customer who, in the recent past, went to order drinks from Mitchel, and he didn’t pay what was owed for the liquor. His family says that he got angry and “broke a glass and a window,” which he had to pay. The person who owed him then reported the incident to police, saying that Mitchell threatened him. He had to attend court, and at the end of the day, he was sentenced to pay a fine of just over $600, which he informed the court he would pay in installments. His cousin told the press that he was almost finished paying, and he only owed the court $80 more.

The officers who picked him up say that they placed him in the pan of the police mobile they were traveling in. They did not handcuff him, and they say that at about mile 3 on the Stann Creek Valley Road, Mitchell, jumped out of the moving pick-up and suffered major head and body injuries. It is believed that he hit his head very hard when he landed on the paved road. The officers say that they rushed him to the Southern Regional Hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries there, and passed way.

His family and friends don’t believe that he suddenly had a death wish, and chose to jump out of a moving vehicle.

His cousin, Nekesha Pratt, told the press, “First thing come to my mind was ‘never.’ We spoke on Thursday about him going out of the country. He was excited to go back to see his children. He was happy. Somebody who showed me excitement on Thursday and try to kill himself on Saturday - you put question mark on that. So it’s really hard for me to even digest that.”

Assistant Police Commissioner Chester Williams, the Head of the police department’s Professional Standards Branch, told the press that in his examination of the case so far, he thinks that the on-duty officers should have placed Mitchell in the back seat of the police mobile’s cabin, instead of the pan of the vehicle. That way, he would have been in between 2 police officers, and there would have been no possibility that Mitchell could have jumped out of the vehicle.

ACP Williams said, “I believe that there is some negligence on the part of the police officers that they will need to answer to and we are looking at that to see how we progress with the investigation. I have inspected the body at the morgue. I spoke to the doctors who attended to him when he arrived and there is no signs of injuries to suggest that he was being beaten prior to, but further information will be gathered when the post mortem is conducted…”

It has since been determined that 3 of those police officers who picked up Mitchell will face disciplinary charges for his death. Apart from the fact that he was placed in the pan of the pick-up, instead of being placed inside the cabin, the officers did not handcuff him. Also, there is a camera on the police vehicle that is to be activated at all times to catalogue how the police officers use these mobiles. That camera was disconnected for several days before the incident, and so, it did not capture the moments when Mitchell allegedly jumped out of the vehicle.

So, for these infractions, the officers will be charged with neglect of duty. The investigation file will be sent to the DPP’s Office for final consideration.