Source Today Newspaper
~ Appeal hearing Isidora shooting ~
GREAT BAY – Young policeman Richmer Michel Patrick York told his story about the events of March 4, 2015 that resulted in the death of Hakeem Isidora yesterday in great detail during the appeal hearing against his conviction to 8 years in the Common Court of Justice. York, 24, described the threatening situation in Belvedere that forced him to use his service weapon to defend himself. Solicitor-general Ton van der Schans however, did not buy the self-defense story of the defendant and his attorney Shaira Bommel, but he offered some leniency with a demand of 6 years. The court will pronounce its verdict on December 7.
York is currently detained in Aruba for his own safety, but the detention away from home is no walk in the park. “I have had threats there,” he told the court. “It has cooled down by now, but I still do not feel at ease. It is expensive for my family to come and visit me and I spend hundreds of guilders a month on international phone calls.”
In the afternoon of that dramatic Wednesday in March of last year, York went around 5 p.m. to Belvedere to pick up his girlfriend and take her to his home where she was going to help his mom.
Hakeem Isidora lived right next door to his girlfriend and he came out of the house when York arrived. The policeman told the court that Isidora had threatened him in the past while he was on duty.
The victim is no stranger to violence. Isidora was involved in a stabbing in 2010 that left 22-year old Otmar Leonard dead. Facing ten years in prison for the stabbing the court acquitted Isidora, who was 17 at the time, of the crime in 2011.
“I made a U-turn to leave, but Hakeem continued to threaten me,” York told the court. He called a colleague to report the incident and was advised to write a report about it.
Later he called police officer Lyndon Lewis who is a cousin of Isidora and asked him to talk to Isidora’s mother to calm down the situation.
Two hours after the first confrontation, York planned to go out with his brother; his girlfriend asked him to take her back home because she had to look after her little brother. York obliged.
“When we arrived back in Belvedere, we sat in the car talking when Hakeem showed up,” York said. “He stood in front of the car and made a movement with his hands as if he was shooting a gun. Then he left and I thought it was over. But shortly after, Hakeem came back with a bunch of guys – six or seven of them.”
York told his girlfriend – who previously had a relationship with Isidora – to get out of the car and lock the door of her home. He didn’t think Isidora was a threat to her.
York said that the group surrounded his car. Isidora’s brother Gilbert has a shovel in his hand; later he came back with an axe. “It had a red top and a brown wooden handle,” the policeman showed his capability of recollection.
The situation became more threatening when Hakeem hit the car’s window on the passenger’s side, while one man was hitting the hood. When Isidora said something like, “This is your night – you last breath on earth,” York called for or assistance with his team leader. In the meantime, Isidora opened the door and leaned into the car; York says he leaned back as far as possible. When he saw Isodora’s brother lift his axe as if ready to strike, panic took over.
York drew his service weapon and fired a shot; Isidora fell back and the rest of the mob scattered. York drove off and shortly afterwards called the police station to report the incident and to call for an ambulance.
“You could not have driven off?” the judges asked. York said this was not possible: “If I had driven forward or backward I would have hit one or two people,” he said.
At the moment he fired the shot, the car was in gear and ready to drive off. The timeframe – between the moment he called for assistance and the moment he fired the shot – was less than a minute. “The situation became so threatening that I had to defend myself,” York said. “My weapon was my only means of defense.”
York denied that there was an option to shoot at something else instead of at the victim, given the close proximity and he does not have any recollection of having fired a second shot. “I was in a state of fright and panic.”
York noted that somebody shot back at him. The bullet pierced the passenger door and would have hit his girlfriend, had she still been in the car.
At the time of the incident, York was not on duty. “Why did you then carry your firearm?” one of the judges asked.
York said that this was standard procedure. He is a member of a team that focuses on gang-related activities, drugs dealing, armed robberies and situations like unrest at the prison. “I must be able to go on active duty immediately when called.”
York said that there is no place at the police station to store firearms and that there is a regulation that permits off duty police officers to carry their weapon.
“Is that policy or just a habit?” Solicitor-General Ton van der Schans asked, adding that he thought the firearms were always carried loaded. “They leave that up to us, but when I go off duty I always unload my weapon to prevent accidents from happening.”
The question is, Van der Schans continued, “where you in a life-threatening situation?”
“To me, I was,” York answered.
York entered the police training in 2011 and he joined the uniformed services in 2013. A year later he became a member of a unit for special assistance. During his short career he fired two warning shots. “They have both been reported and found to be according to procedure,” the young officer said.
Van der Schans considered the facts proven. This includes a second charge for the possession of an illegal firearm. In York’s car, officers found an air gun that he had intended to discard.
The solicitor-general concluded that York could – and should – have gotten away from the situation, saying that he had time to do this after his girlfriend had left the car. ‘She even called you telling you to leave,” he said.
Van der Schans nevertheless acknowledged that York’s detention situation is stressful. “For security reasons he cannot be detained in Pointe Blanche. This is why the defendant is in Aruba, but that involves other inconveniences. The prison sentence carries additional weight for this defendant and I think that the Court in First Instance has insufficiently considered this.”
A prison sentence of 6 years is fitting and required, Van der Schans concluded.
Attorney Shaira Bommel obviously had a different opinion; she asked the court to acquit her client of the shooting or at least to drop all charges for it against him. The attorney said that her client had had no intention to cause the victim’s death and that he only wanted to defer the danger Isidora and his brother posed to him.
“It may be expected from a police officer that he does not run away from a threatening situation,” Bommel added. “He made an error of judgment but that is not enough for conditional intent on the victim’s death. The group around Isidora is responsible for the emotional condition of my client in that situation. It was up to Hakeem to withdraw from the situation, knowing that my client is a police officer. He had nowhere to go and he was attacked without reason. The dossier does not show any real alternative for leaving the situation or for waiting for the help from his colleagues.”
Bommel furthermore noted that police officer Lyndon Lewis had an interest in making false statements, because of the involvement of his cousin Isidora. “He gave information to the family and for that reason he has been suspended,” Bommel pointed out. The attorney also questioned the reliability of statements made by York’s girlfriend.
“The position of the solicitor-general and the Court in First Instance that my client could have gotten away from the situation is incomprehensible,” Bommel said. “Because he is a police officer, it is the other way around. His defense against Isidora’s aggression was permissible.”