By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
GRIEF stricken family members reacted furiously after police killed three of their relatives on Saturday after an officer was “ambushed” by gunshots. The deaths marked the country’s deadliest police-involved killing since three men were killed in the Blair Estates community in May 2019.
The deceased include 25-year-old Deshoan Smith, also known as “Spider”, and two other men who went by the names “Ridah” and “Dog Bite”. The car in which the men were shot was riddled with bullets.
Police Commissioner Paul Rolle said authorities suspect the men were waiting off Cowpen Road to target someone who was attending a burial ceremony.
“There was a funeral taking place at the Spikenard cemetery when officers who were on patrol observed a white Honda Accord parked in the eastern section of the cemetery,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“Officers went on foot. As they approached the vehicle, the vehicle drove off. Officers then got back into their vehicle and left. A short while later, driving on Cowpen Road again, they saw the vehicle through a side corner. They stopped and exited their patrol vehicle and one of the officers approached what we believe would’ve been the driver door, as the vehicle is heavily tinted. As he stood there attempting to speak with the driver, shots began being discharged from the rear seat. That officer then as he attempted to make his escape, the other officers that were there then engaged the participants of the vehicle who continued shooting at the officers. Once the shooting stopped we made a check and observed three persons inside the vehicle were suffering from gunshot injuries. We summoned EMS and EMS arrived on the scene a short time later and three of the persons in the vehicle were deceased.”
Commissioner Rolle said of the three officers on the scene, one of them discharged bullets, not the other two. He did not say which of the officers discharged their weapons but noted that none of the officers were injured. The officer who approached the car “was able to get out of the way,” he said, adding: “I think the tint on the car might have assisted with the bullet like that.”
Commissioner Rolle said one weapon, a pistol, was recovered from the car.
Several dozen people huddled yards from the shooting on Cowpen Road and began screaming in anger as police left the scene in their cars.
The mother of one of the men said “police shoot that car up, they meant to kill them” while others called authorities “wicked”.
The mother, who did not give her name, said the car belonged to her son, who she said was 28.
She said while the men were “known to police” she did not think they were the type to shoot at officers.
“And the thing about it is, they known to police of course, so they definitely ain’ the type that will pull gun and shoot at policeman,” she said. “They know ‘bout going spending 48 hours, 94 hours (in custody) and come out so they ain’ gon’ do that, so tell policeman they got to come with another story.”
Another relative insisted “no shots came from out (of) the (deceased’s) car.”
The police-involved killing comes as people around the world protest police brutality and excessive force. It also comes several days after Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles warned in a ruling that discharging weapons should be a last resort.
On Saturday, the police chief said the event in question is not like the incident referenced in Justice Charles’ ruling. He said Saturday’s shooting involved suspects who “ambushed” and “engaged” police.
“I saw that report from the learned judge,” Commissioner Rolle said. “This is not that type of situation here today. This is a situation where an officer was ambushed and we train our officers. You would’ve attended the graduation ceremony just last week where I’m in the process of retraining all officers on the frontline in tactical policing, how to appropriately approach vehicles, how to appropriately apprehend suspects. We don’t train with rubber bullets. If persons want to engage the members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force they need to be prepared to meet their maker. I’m not training my officers to go out there, I would like for them to return home at the end of the day when they come to work.”
He also said: “I give you the facts as they are. I’ve been following the issues around what has happened in the United States and what has caused this whole thing and that has been a concern. I have been, as I said, we are retraining officers in the whole art of justifiable force and harm and we are retraining and we want the public to know that we don’t just walk around with a firearm looking for somebody to shoot. The Police Act says the commissioner of police would determine the types of arms that are required for his officers to do their job. We are also exploring some other non-lethal methods but for right now what we have are officers who are armed with firearms. It used to be batons, I don’t think we want officers to go on the roads nowadays with batons. Everybody riding three deep, four deep, trying to rob people and cause harm.”
The police-involved killing happened on the first Saturday in months where Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ COVID-19 lockdown measures were not in force. Increasing criminal activity as normalcy resumes in the country is a concern, Commissioner Rolle said.
“I have beefed up the presence on the streets and I would advise persons who are interested in violence to change their minds and just stay home because it is very likely that they are going to be apprehended or even have a confrontation,” he said. “We don’t want a confrontation. We’re not going to sit by and allow our officers to be injured or members of the public. Wherever we can help, our role is to ensure the safety of every person moving in this society.”