The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) is facing a lawsuit by a Grenadian family who claimed to have been bullied and humiliated over a false accusation of stealing a mobile phone.
So degrading was their experience, the Gilbert family charged, that they swear never to visit Barbados again.
“We are at this stage where we would never go back to Barbados. Unless by sheer emergency or necessity, we are not going to come back,” Tamika Gilbert, one of the five-member family, told Barbados TODAY Friday evening in a telephone interview from St George’s.
“So that should tell you how bad we were feeling at the moment.”
Tamika and her sister Lynell, along with their mother, father and a cousin, none of whom want to be named, were here last October to visit the United States embassy to have their visas renewed.
Having successfully completed their business early, they decided to go to Bridgetown for some shopping and to enjoy each other’s company, since they had never travelled as an entire family before, Tamika said.
The trip became a nightmare after a store owner accused the young women of stealing her mobile phone.
Confident of their innocence, they offered to have their bags searched by the storeowner, who turned down the offer and said she would check recordings from security cameras.
Instead, “an excessive amount of police officers showed up at the scene” and during a heated exchange with the store owner, they were threatened with arrest.
They were all taken to the police station and what happened there brought her to tears, Tamika told Barbados TODAY.
She said the two sisters and their cousin were virtually stripped of their dignity by the officers, who shouted at them, insulted them, prevented them from speaking to other family members, brought them water three hours after they had made a request, and had one sister use the toilet with the door opened and an officer standing guard.
However, the most humiliating experience, she said, was when they were strip-searched.
“I went to the bathroom and she [female police officer] is at the stall with her back to the door and she said, ‘take your hair down’ cause my hair is in braids and it was in a bun, then she says, ‘take off all your clothes stoop and cough’.
“I started to cry again . . . I and all my family may be subject to a strip search. She wasn’t even satisfied with how low I stooped.”
The sisters first made the incident public on a television programme in their homeland last night.
However, Tamika told Barbados TODAY she had relived the experience many times and she now understood what it felt like to be a “victim” of the Barbados police.
“I never thought something so humiliating and degrading could have happened to my family,” she said.
Since going public, she has received countless stories of similar experiences from Grenadians and non-Grenadines alike, Tamika said.
“Every five of of six persons who messaged us say, ‘I too had a similar bad Barbados experience’. It gets me angry that so many people would have gone through that and they didn’t say anything.
“They [the police] behave like they don’t want us to come, like we are not tourists. The police station that we went to, I was trying real hard to find an officer who was nice that day. And if that is how they are treating us as visitors – and they knew we are not from Barbados – that’s not good for the country at all,” she said, adding: “We have never taken a family trip when all four of us went out together, so Barbados will be a memorable experience for our family.”
Tamika explained that the reason it took them some three months to tell their story was because they had been trying to find a lawyer here to take their case.
Frustrated at the pace at which the process was moving, they turned to noted Grenadian attorney Ruggles Ferguson, who told Barbados TODAY the family would seek redress in the courts.
“Legal action is being pursued. There’s a team of Caribbean lawyers involved in this matter, we are discussing it and we will determine how to proceed,” Ferguson said via telephone.
The attorney was highly critical of the police here, saying they had acted illegally, and called for “these unlawful practices to stop”.
He also was complimentary of the sisters for making their experience public, contending they were doing so on behalf of those who had gone through similar experiences but were “too embarrassed to relate what happened to them”.
Tamika said a senior officer later apologized, stating “a lot of things that happen today would have been excessive and should not have happened”.
She added that the exclamation mark came when she was asked to amend her written statement, deleting her claim that they were subjected “to an embarrassing body search”.
Their attorney told Barbados TODAY this was unpardonable.
“They have gone through six hours in the station, forced to change their statement in the case of Tamika so they can leave the station . . . so there are deeper issues in this matter –– starting with treating people with respect,” Ferguson said.
“Therefore, it must not happen to another person.”