By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
JAMIE Smith should have died from a close range gunshot wound to the heart, Wayne Munroe told the Coroner’s Court yesterday.
During his closing submissions, Mr Munroe said police officers “ought not to play with felons” who are in custody and can grab a firearm an injure innocent people. He said if it were him he would have just shot Smith rather than struggle to restrain him for several minutes.
But Mr Munroe said because it was not his client’s intention to kill Smith, he chose to place him in a sleeper hold, rather than shoot him.
Smith, 35, died at the Central Detective Unit within two hours of his arrest on suspicion of armed robbery on February 8, 2013.
Four officers from the station, Sergeant Ezra Maycock, Corporal Brian Roach, Corporal Sterling Knowles and Sergeant Keno Smith, have been placed on administrative leave.
A pathologist report later concluded that Smith died of asphyxia, an excess of carbon dioxide caused by abnormal breathing.
Acting Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez oversees the inquiry. Attorney Christina Galanos represents Smith’s immediate family and lawyers Wayne Munroe and Ian Cargill represent the officers.
Corporal Roach admitted in earlier testimony that he placed Smith in a sleeper hold to try and calm him down and prevent him from escaping. He testified that the hold is a standard police position used to subdue unruly suspects.
Mr Munroe told the five member jury that their decision in this case will send a clear message to the police force.
He said: ”If you tell police they cannot use this hold, then how should they restrain suspects? Would you prefer they use my method and just shoot the person? Are you, the jury, saying that the Bahamian police ought not to have available to them a technique used all over the world. If he had gotten a firearm from one of the officers it would be a different story. We would be reading the papers and saying ‘These officers must be inept, how did they let this man get a gun?”
Mr Munroe said Smith died from pressure applied to the neck. He said no one choked him, no one beat him and he was not strangled. He said the reason it took Corporal Roach a long time to properly place Smith in the sleeper hold was because he was moving around violently trying to escape custody.
Mr Munroe also told the court that it is not strange that it took four officers to restrain one man, especially when the man in question was “high as a kite.” A toxicologist testified that Smith had traces of marijuana in his blood.
He said the size of the man does not matter. He reminded the jury that some time ago, one man, who was also under the influence, beat up, six police officers, seriously injuring two of them.
Mr Munroe also said Jamie Smith was a felon and the law permits certain treatment when it comes to felons. He said “people can die before a trial for their felonies, the law permits that.” He said Smith got violent when he realized that officers would figure out that he was not Matthew Pratt, as he originally told them, but that he was actually Jamie Smith. He said facing the possibility that he could spend the rest of his life in prison for armed robbery, Smith decided to escape and the officers could not let him leave as it is an offence to let a felon escape from police custody.
However, Ms Galanis said despite what reputation Smith may or may not have had, it does not give the police the right to play judge, jury and executioner. She said regardless of what may have been said in court about Smith, he died an innocent man. She said Smith had a fundamental right to have a trial and even if he was found guilty his sentence would not have been death.
She told the jury that the officers tried to portray Smith as the aggressor to justify their actions. She said they are hiding behind section 103 of the Penal code which gives officers the right to use any force which is necessary to recapture, arrest or kill a felon trying to escape custody.
However, she said killing him was to be the last resort if he could not otherwise be detained and the evidence does not show that they tried any other means of restraining him. She also questioned why Corporal Roach placed Smith in the sleeper hold without having the proper CPR training to resuscitate him, in fact she said none of the officers performed CPR on Smith.
Ms Galanis also said because of the marijuana that was found in Smith’s system, it would have made him drowsy making it impossible to have the strength to struggle with the police officers.
She said the officers offered no plausible reason how Smith met his death and the message must be sent that no one is above the law. She told the jury to ask themselves “Did four men really have to kill one unarmed man to restrain him?”
The inquest continues on September 5, when the Coroner is expected to sum up the evidence instruct the jury.