Barbados: Questions about Maloney inquest verdict

On 17 June, 2008, I'Akobu Tacuma Maloney — a bright, high-achieving 23-year-old Barbadian engineer who had recently graduated from the University of the West Indies, and a devout Rastafari — died in a mysterious encounter with the Barbados police. (See this Global Voices report dated 30 July, 2008, for more details.)

A police report suggested that Maloney jumped from a coastal cliff in a remote area of north Barbados after he was approached by two police officers investigating a report of suspicious behaviour. But Maloney's family immediately objected, refusing to believe that the young man would commit suicide, and pointing out inconsistencies in the police report. Members of the Rastafari community in Barbados set up a blog, AfriKa CRY BLOOD, to publicise their efforts to seek justice in the Maloney case, demanding an independent investigation.

The inquest into Maloney's death opened in November 2008, under coroner Faith Marshall-Harris. Over the next five months, Marshall-Harris heard testimony from witnesses, including Maloney's co-workers and friends and the police officers present at the time of his death. AfriKa CRY BLOOD documented the hearings in detail, including the coroner's criticisms of police procedure.

On Friday 24 April, 2009, Marshall-Harris released her verdict: death by misadventure:

Ruling out an open verdict and death by suicide, the Magistrate surmised that Maloney may have felt some form of harassment from the police officers, especially when they requested that he accompany them to the station and that “he made a sudden dash for freedom”.

There followed an “uproar” in the courtroom as Maloney's family and their supporters reacted:

Tension reached fever-pitch in the small courtyard of the Coroner’s Court on Roebuck Street at 5 p.m., when grieving mother Marguerita Maloney exited the court, raised her hands on the air, shouted “misadventure”, then crumpled to the ground ….

The mother’s cries only fuelled emotions, as I’Akobi’s father David, and his younger brother Mandela, also started to shout at police officers stationed at the court.

“I have pictures of my son’s body, brutalised, manhandled,” she said.

“I call on the ancestors to deal with all the perpetrators… This is only an earth verdict,” she said before collapsing for a second time.

Noting tensions between the Barbados Rastafari community and the police, the coroner urged the Royal Barbados Police Force to address the problem:

“There seems to be a great deal of tension, fear, mistrust and suspicion by the Rastafarian community, but by the same token, the community needs to look carefully at some of their actions which suggest that they are harbouring a victim mentality and may be looking for injustice where it is not intended,” said the coroner.

She was also very critical of how the police officers dealt with Maloney’s mother Marguerita Maloney, saying that they had given her incorrect information and that their actions may have led to the confusion she experienced surrounding her son’s death.

AfriKa CRY BLOOD noted the response of the police commissioner, who said he was willing to meet with the Rastafari community to hear their concerns, but denied that the Barbados police singled out members of any religious or ethnic group.

The Barbados Free Press blog, noting that some Barbados police have received training from China officers (allegedly in violent tactics), addressed a question to the commissioner:

Please inform the good citizens of Barbados whether any of the police officers involved with the death of I’Akobi Maloney, either at the scene or during the subsequent investigation, ever received training from China.

And AfriKa CRY BLOOD published a statement from Maloney's brother Mandela, arguing that “the question of how I’Akobi met his death has still been left unanswered after approximately 10 months of deliberations both inside and out of court”:

Ultimately, [the coroner] failed miserably in her role which was to allay the concerns of our family and the public. There still remains much misinformation disseminated by the police which she would like to have our family believe was a result of miscommunication…. There must be a more sturdy impartial foundation to the proceedings of the coroner’s court if it is seeking to be a truly independent entity.

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