Human Rights activist and attorney-at-law Mary Francis has condemned the killing of a mentally challenged man in Vieux Fort on Monday (June 16) by police, saying that from her observations “the force used was disproportionate to the threat”.
“I think it’s happening too frequently that persons who are mentally challenged lose their lives at the hands of the police simply because the police do not have the required training and then they could not be bothered. They act to me recklessly,” Francis told St Lucia News Online (SNO) in an exclusive interview today (June 17).
Francis said yesterday’s incident calls into question the rights of the mentally challenged people.
“It is also a question of police and the use of guns as a last resort because this is what the law requires, you only use a gun as a last resort measure when your life is under serious threat, and he didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with such a situation,” she added. “This is madness on the part of the police. That is to me is excessive force and there has to be a proper inquiry and maybe the family may want to sue the state.”
Francis said while it a norm for the police to be called in to apprehend the mentally challenged, whether by family members or persons in the community, “most times when you hear of those fatal shootings, police are involved.”
She said the police officers’ defense most times is that they were under attack, which led them to shoot and kill the person. She argued that the man wasn’t thinking rationally, which is why the matter should have been dealt with differently.
In addition, Francis said the St. Lucia government needs to act fast to implement procedures that will deal with such matters.
She has recommended the training of officers to deal with the mentally challenged and have them posted at major police stations.
The humans rights activist explained that this issue has however been discussed for many years. She recalled attending a Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) workshop back in 2003 that looked specifically at dealing with such matters.
“Those matters have been spoken of over and over again but they have not found a solution to the problem,” she remarked.
At one time, she said government was looking at using tasers for these cases, but after several discussions, no measure was put in place. To date, nothing has been done to find another alternative.
Meanwhile, relatives of the mentally challenged man, Simon Gabriel, have claimed that he was killed “cold-bloodedly”.
The relatives of the deceased told SNO that the police could have shot him in his foot. However, they claimed that the man was shot three times close-range. This happened even while, the mother of the deceased pleaded with the police not to shot him and explained to them that he is not violent.
The relatives had called the police for assistance to get Simon medical care at the Mental Wellness Centre.