Five days after being subdued by police officers, Carly John, husband of opposition senator Shevern John said he was still having problems breathing and had difficulty swallowing.
“…Up to this time I’m not breathing properly, and I cannot swallow all that well. I feel like some big stone or something is in my throat,” John said at the office of his lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste on Tuesday, about his then medical condition.
He apparently has a scar, and further noted “My throat is still swollen, sometimes I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe properly, shortness of breath. And that happen all now, it’s continuing right now.”
His injuries are reported to be a result of an incident part of which was captured on video that has lit up social media since Thursday, September 9. This was during a protest that was near the Vegetable Market in Kingstown, and published by News784, where it appeared that John was at some point held around the neck by an officer, and at some point held around his head by another officer.
While John has received three charges following this incident, two of assault of police officers, and one for resisting arrest, his lawyers are dissatisfied that no charges have been brought against the officer who, from the video, seemingly held their client in a chokehold.
In the court, Bacchus-Baptiste said, “I can’t help but comment that I expected to see a charge for attempted murder or some such charge against the officer Sam, and I will be calling for it.”
“…It’s not a joke, I don’t like to see the prosecutor smile at this. My client is still suffering, he’s on a medical attention, he was almost choked to death, but we have him here answering three charges. In a just world that is not what would happen,” she argued.
The legal team have written a letter making multiple demands, one of which is the investigation and issuance of “maximum charges” against PC 700 Verrol Sam, leading to his dismissal from the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force(RSVGPF).
The letter titled “Re: Police Abuse of Citizens exercising right to protest – Carly John”, was sent to three officials: the Minister of National Security, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves; the Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP), Sejilla McDowall; and the Commissioner of Police(COP), Colin John.
It also called for these parties to immediately “unreservedly condemn and abolish any choke holding of citizens by police”, and to liaise with the Attorney General to adequately compensate Carly John for his injuries and loss.
Further, that a statement be released reinforcing the provisions of the Police Act and Regulations referred to in the letter, demanding that the police “strictly adhere or face the consequences”.
Bacchus-Baptiste is also calling for them to condemn “the spate of spurious charges levied against protesters for exercising the right to demonstrate”.
The parties were asked to acknowledge receipt of the letter, and respond within seven days.
In the letter, the lawyer highlighted particular sections of the Police Act and Regulations which emphasise the need for officers to act with great caution and prudence and refrain from using force unless absolutely necessary.
Bacchus-Baptiste cited a Wikipedia definition of a chokehold/stranglehold, noting that it is a general term “for a grappling hold that critically reduces or prevents either air (choking) or blood (strangling) from passing through the neck of an opponent.” She continued quoting that, “while the time it takes for the choke to render an opponent unconscious varies depending on the type of choke, the average has been recorded as nine seconds. The lack of blood or air often leads to unconsciousness or even death.
“…If you’re a trained police officer, you should know in this day and age in St Vincent and all over the world that if you hold a man in a chokehold for more than nine seconds, you could kill him,” Bacchus-Baptiste said during the press conference.
She said that “…It is by the grace of God that Mr John is sitting here today,”, noting that “They had to put him on oxygen, they had to give him a ventilator like if he’s asthmatic,” and he’s still on medication, she said.
“ I called for the charges of attempted murder or similar charges to be brought against that policeman because we have to set the example.
If this goes unnoticed, and nobody is brought to justice, you want to see next time you have all the policemen holding people by chokeholds? I am not joking when I call for Ralph Gonsalves to condemn this you know; and the Commissioner of Police…and the Christian Council. I am not joking, ”Bacchus-Baptiste emphasised.
“I will keep calling on them until they make a statement on chokeholds. We saw what happened in the States with Eric Garner, George Floyd. It is not a joke. That’s why I read for you what Wikipedia says; not me. Nine seconds,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
The lawyers also highlighted that while the police were mentioning an assault bodily harm charge against a female police officer on Friday, there was apparently no mention of an assault charge as it relates to PC700 until after the weekend “until it blew up over the weekend and the video was circulated – all of a sudden on Monday, enter assault of Sam.”
While answering another question posed by the media, Bacchus-Baptiste stated, “Even if Mr John had done something wrong, and the police was arresting him for it, there is no excuse for what they did to him. Do you understand me? It doesn’t turn on whether he did something wrong or not, it turns on a policeman has no authority to stranglehold a person that they’re trying to arrest. It’s a grave issue. Let us not sweep it under the carpet.”