By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
WHAT was supposed to be an investigation into a report of domestic violence turned fatal when a policeman fired a gun-shot at a car that was reversing into him.
Yesterday, 40-year-old Nathaniel Charlow was called to the stand to give his defence after Crown prosecutors closed their case against him concerning the March 27, 2006, shooting death of 20-year-old Deron Bethel of Pinewood Gardens. Charlow is accused of manslaughter, a charge that he denies.
The incident allegedly occurred when police entered the Pinewood community to investigate a report of domestic violence against a woman involving the use of a firearm.
Bethel was in his car when plain clothes officers tried to unlock it and one officer opened fire after the car reversed from its position.
Prior to yesterday’s proceedings, the court heard evidence from Corporals Natasha Johnson and Foster Rolle who testified that on the evening in question, they went to a residence in Pinewood Gardens occupied by a Warren Rolle who was picked out by his former girlfriend.
Upon arrival, they, and officer Charlow pulled in front of a Honda vehicle parked in front of the property. A man in all white got into his vehicle and two men in the yard ran when officers Charlow and Rolle got out of the unmarked police vehicle and identified themselves as police.
Charlow ordered the occupant (Bethel) of the Honda to open the car doorm but the driver started the car, lunged forward slightly and then reversed and swerved in Charlow’s direction as he tried to gain access to the vehicle.
When Charlow jumped out of the way, he fired a shot.
However, two other prosecution witnesses, Warren Rolle and Frederick Rahming (two men in the yard) claimed the plainclothed officers did not identify themselves when they went after Bethel and tried to gain access to his car. The number of shots fired was also disputed.
Yesterday, before Charlow took the witness stand to give evidence under oath, his lawyer Murrio Ducille told the nine-member jury that his client didn’t have to say anything. He further said his client should not be before the court considering the evidence of the prosecution’s own witnesses.
Charlow recalled the day in question when on duty at East Street South Police Station.
“I was on duty when I saw and spoke to a complainant of Fox Dale. She made a complaint that she was assaulted with a firearm to the face by her ex-boyfriend, Warren Rolle,” the jury heard.
The accused said he took a written statement from the woman, who then refused advice to have medical attention. He, accompanied by officers Johnson and Rolle, took the complainant to locate the ex-boyfriend’s house at Ficus Street.
When the complainant pointed out a green and white house, the officers then went to Yamacraw Estates where they took a witness statement from a friend of the complainant before returning to the South Beach police station.
Charlow said a search warrant was prepared in the name of Warren Rolle before he and the same officers returned to Ficus Street around 8:20pm.
“I observed a dark coloured Honda vehicle parked in front of the residence. A dark skinned male in all white was standing inside the door of the car,” the accused said, adding that he pulled the unmarked police vehicle in front of this car.
Upon jumping out of the car with his colleagues and instructing Officer Johnson to remain because she was unarmed, Charlow said: “I shouted police.”
Two other males in the yard started to run while the male standing inside the door of the Honda got inside.
Charlow said he and officer Rolle attempted to open the car door, which was locked by the driver, who refused to open it when ordered to do so.
The accused told the court that the car lunged forward slightly and then reversed in his direction as he tried to gain access to the vehicle.
With the car reversing into him and with the wall of the resident behind him, Charlow said he jumped out of the way and fired a shot from his .38 police-issued revolver.
Charlow said it all happened quickly in a matter of seconds and before he knew it, the car had already crashed into something down the road by the softball park.
“When you fired that shot, how did you feel?” Mr Ducille asked.
“I was in fear for my life,” the accused answered.
“What was your intention when you got to Ficus Street?” his lawyer asked.
“To search for a firearm relating to the complaint that was made,” Charlow said.
“Did you know any of the three persons before that day?” Mr Ducille asked. The accused said he did not.
Charlow said that after the crash, “I went to the vehicle and the occupant was still moving around.”
With his weapon drawn, and forcing his way into the car, he instructed the driver not to move, but got a response from the driver that he had been shot.
The accused said he told officer Johnson to tape off the area and asked for an ambulance. He said EMS arrived 15 minutes later and pronounced the male driver dead.
He said he contacted his superiors and informed them of what had happened.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Kristan Stubbs questioned the officer about his tenure on the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
“You were a corporal, how did you achieve that rank?” she asked.
“I took exams, was interviewed by superiors, they have a process and I was promoted,” Charlow answered.
“Up to 2006, how long had you been on the force?” prosecutor Stubbs asked. “Sixteen year,” he replied.
“Throughout that time, you received training yes?” Stubbs asked. Charlow said he did.
“Even as a corporal?” the prosecutor then asked. The accused said “no ma’am.”
“Wouldn’t you consider that unusual?” the prosecutor asked.
Charlow said it was not unusual because training often depended on circumstances and the number of persons to be trained.
Charlow was asked if his studies included policies on the use of firearms and he said he obtained information on his own, but “was never given any information to study.”
Charlow then answered that he was not, at this time, familiar with the force’s firearm policies.
Prosecutor Stubbs asked Charlow if he had any training in the use of firearms and the accused said he was trained in two courses prior to receiving a station.
“How long did they last, the courses?” the prosecutor asked.
Charlow said the first course was “one to two weeks long and the second was longer.”
“You know where the range is, right?” Stubbs asked. The accused said, “yes.”
“You went to there to practice?” the prosecutor then asked. Charlow answered “not after training.”
“Would you say you need special qualifications to be equipped with a firearm?” the prosecutor asked.
Charlow disagreed and said that the initial training was sufficient.
“In your 16 years on the force, were there a lot of situations where you had to use your gun?” Stubbs asked.
“A few,” the accused answered, adding that they were instances of life and death.
The prosecutor then asked Charlow if he as aware of procedures for using a firearm when trying to gain access to a vehicle. The accused said he was not.
Recalling the evening in question, the prosecutor asked Charlow: “Do you think that situation warranted the use of a gun?”
“Yes, it did,” Charlow answered, adding that “I don’t use a gun unless I’m in fear for my life.”
“Are you aware of what may happen as a result of using your gun?” the prosecutor asked the accused. Charlow said “it depends on the situation.”
The prosecutor then asked the officer how he felt about the result of the action he took that evening when Deron Bethel died.
“I’m always sorry about the loss of anyone’s life, but I had to protect my life,” the accused answered.
“So your life is more important than his life?” the prosecutor asked.
“I didn’t say that,” the officer said.
The prosecutor asked the officer if he considered that the shot he fired could’ve missed and hit his colleague.
“That’s why I only fired one shot,” Charlow said.
“I suggest you only were concerned with stopping this car, by any means necessary,” the prosecutor said.
“I wouldn’t say that,” the accused answered.
The matter resumes today before Senior Justice Jon Isaacs.