By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
RELATIVES of a Haitian man who died at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services last month are demanding answers over the cause of his death.
The death of 36-year-old Amos François was not reported to the media, officials insistiing yesterday there was no legal requirement to announce inmate deaths at the facility to the public.
When contacted yesterday, a Haitian embassy spokesperson identified the deceased as a Haitian citizen. However, his sister Gina François claims he was born in The Bahamas but had never applied for citizenship.
Ms François said: “I don’t live in the Bahamas. We just lost our mother seven months ago, tell me how I’m supposed to feel when after just losing my mom, my brother dies and no one will tell me how.
“I can’t plan his funeral because they won’t release his body. Nobody has yet to let us know. We want to honour his life, and it seems really fishy.
“How is it you care? On their website, it says they care about the safety of those in your care, and he suddenly dies and nobody is telling us anything.”
Mr François was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to prison in 2014, and died on February 13.
The matter is now before the coroner, according to Minister of National Security Marvin Dames and Acting Prison Commissioner Charles Murphy.
“From time to time you will have deaths at the prison,” Mr Dames said. “This is not something new if somebody dies, unless there is some suspicion around it.
“There is nothing that would have given the indication it was something suspicious. But in all deaths, be it suspicious or not, it becomes a matter of the coroner. We would have followed all of the protocols, and it is before the coroner.”
Yesterday, Commissioner Murphy confirmed Mr François’ case is the first death at the facility for the year, and refuted claims the family was not contacted by prison officials as he explained protocols regarding deaths in custody.
He did not provide any details concerning the matter, stating only it was before the coroner.
“When an inmate dies at the prison,” Commissioner Murphy said, “we call the doctor in, we verify the death, we call the police and we call the coroner in. At the same time, we seek to find the relative of the person, sometimes finding out exactly who the relative is poses a problem, but that is the protocol. The family is always informed.”
For his part, Mr Dames continued: “If circumstances were as such that something untoward or suspicious happened that’s a difference, but you have people at the prison who may have illnesses or diseases that are known.
“Now if it’s something that’s suspicious or ought to be a matter of public record then those steps would have been taken. If someone was found with a wound or hanging from the cell, that’s different.
“There are persons who are incarcerated sometimes who have been incarcerated for a while with terminal diseases and they die, and their family may not want it to be put out there.
“If it’s something we feel is newsworthy, then we’d put it out,” he added.
Yesterday, Ms François explained a relative was notified from a family friend on the same day that her brother died but contact was not made until days later.
“They never called us, we called them first,” said his sister.
Ms François lives in the United States, but said she has another brother who lives in Nassau.
She continued: “Never once did they call to let us know that he had passed. It has been four weeks almost five weeks now and we still have not heard anything more at all. No one from that place has called me back.
“After finding out, of course we bombarded their office with phone calls, and still then no one has contacted us to tell us how a healthy 30-something-year-old man, who I spoke to a week before, how he died.
“How does that happen, how? When I contacted them they said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss and we’re still investigating,’ still figuring it out, no one has called to give an update.”