PHILIPSBURG–Police officer R.M.P.Y. (23) did not act in self-defence when he shot and killed Akeem Kwame Isidora in Happy Estate, Belvedere, on March 4. The young officer was charged with manslaughter, which merited a twelve-year prison sentence, the Prosecutor said during Wednesday’s Court hearing.
Y. (23), who is detained at KIA prison in Aruba for safety reasons, was flown back to St. Maarten to be present for the hearing. Despite his lawyer’s request to lift or suspend his pre-trial detention, Y. will remain in custody at least until November 18, when the Judge is to hand down the verdict.
Y. was arrested May 17 in connection with the fatal shooting of Isidora (22). He was sent to Aruba later because of safety risks in the Pointe Blanche prison.
During the hearing, the defendant was meticulously questioned by the Judge about the circumstances leading up to the fatal incident in which the victim was shot in his chest.
The police said in a report after the shooting that witnesses had reported that the incident had occurred after a very heated verbal confrontation between the off-duty officer, who was driving in his personal vehicle at that time, and a group of men from the neighbourhood.
The confrontation took place after Y. had dropped off his girlfriend, who lived next door to the victim.
At a certain point during the confrontation, the situation escalated and got out of control, the police said at the time. According to witnesses, this was when shots were fired, leaving Isidora dead on the street.
Officer Y., who was entitled to carry a weapon at all times, nevertheless was charged with possession of a firearm in contravention of the Fire Weapon Ordinance. He not only carried his service weapon, but also had an alarm pistol in his vehicle, which is against the law.
Sporting white T-shirts with the defendant’s portrait and name, a dozen supporters in the public gallery heard Prosecutor Gonda van der Wulp say that forensic investigations had established that Y. had fired at least two shots when Isidora opened the front door of his car.
Y. claimed he had acted in self-defence, as his Kia Sportage had been surrounded by a group of seven angry men who were shouting and banging their fists on the vehicle, with Isidora shouting “Come out now. … Tonight is your night.” He also said he had seen Isidora’s brother coming toward his vehicle swinging a large axe.
The Prosecutor contested these statements. The axe actually was a shovel and Y.’s girlfriend had told the police there were only three people close to her boyfriend’s vehicle.
Prosecutor Van der Wulp did not deny that the defendant had found himself in a threatening situation. However, she expressed her amazement over the fact that the officer had failed to lock his car from the inside. He had not tried to de-escalate the situation and instead of leaving the scene, as his girlfriend and a colleague had urged him to do, he had waited in his car for more than 10 minutes.
After consulting with his team leader, Y. had failed to wait for police assistance and had resorted to violence, the Prosecutor said. In fact, only one minute had elapsed between the defendant’s call to his team leader and his call to 911 after the shooting, at approximately 7:14pm, the Prosecutor pointed out. It was held against the officer that he had failed to fire a warning shot or shoot the victim in the knee.
Y. said he acted out of fear and had not attempted to drive away because he had not wanted to run over anybody.
In the Prosecutor’s opinion, the defendant had caused the confrontation, which was the result of a series of problems between himself and the victim, also in his capacity as a police officer.
However, the “rather hefty” incident that had occurred earlier that afternoon, around 5:00, had nothing to do with police work, but everything to do with jealousy and a conversation between Isidora and Y.’s girlfriend over which the defendant had been “disproportionally agitated.”
Y. had made a phone call to a colleague during which he allegedly had said: “Deal with this man, because this man disrespected me and I am going to take him out.”
The Prosecutor dismissed as “implausible” and “even a little ridiculous” statements that Y. had confronted the victim because he had wanted “to document the threats.” Van der Wulp said Y. could have left the scene easily, as he had been sitting in his car with the motor running in first gear and without the handbrake on.
The Judge also questioned the defendant as to why he had not used threats to ward off his assailant. “You could have told him to get lost,” the Judge said. “You could have put your finger alongside the barrel of your gun, or have fired in the air, like you learned in training, but you skipped all that and shot immediately.”
No big boy
Why didn’t he deal him a blow to his head or kick him in the groin, the Judge also wanted to know. “I am not a big boy and could not defend myself in such a manner. I had no other way,” was Y.’s response.
He had urged his girlfriend to leave the car, but did not leave himself, much to his girlfriend’s bewilderment. “I was asking [R.] what was wrong with him. I even asked him: “Why are you sitting here to create more problems? And he told me to go inside,” she was quoted as saying. “I told [R.]: ‘Let us drive off and come back a little later,’ but he would not listen.”
According to the Prosecutor, the defendant had been on the attack, “disguised as a pre-emptive strike.” Van der Wulp did not go as far as calling the defendant guilty of murder “in killing a rival,” but did find manslaughter proven.
Y. started training as a police officer in July 2011, went on active duty in July 2013, and had been a member of a special team since 2014. In his brief career he had been involved in two previous shooting incidents during which he had fired warning shots. However, his superiors had not confronted him with this or provided counselling.
He has a clean criminal record and a psychological assessment stated he was fully accountable for his acts.
The Prosecutor held it against him that he had fired his gun while he was off-duty. “He did not act out of fear, but because he felt offended and dishonoured. He was jealous and therefore acted out of anger,” Van der Wulp concluded. She said she was displeased with the fact that as a sworn-in civil servant Y. had failed to tell the truth.
Attorney Shaira Bommel maintained that her client had acted out of fear and in self-defence and had had no other choice but to resort to gun violence. She called for her client’s full acquittal of both murder and manslaughter, as he had acted on impulse and under life-threatening circumstances.
The lawyer said her client had been confronted with a large group of men from the neighbourhood. “My client did not look for a confrontation,” Bommel said, pointing at several witnesses for the defence who had stated that her client’s assailants had been all over the car “just like ants.”
Bommel said self-defence was justified. “A tragic ending could have been foreseen, but was not intended. My client, a policeman, was threatened, attacked and led into an awkward situation. He was forced to pull his weapon and fire it. Driving away was no option,” she said, pointing at a report of the Netherlands Forensic Institute and at findings derived from a re-enactment.
Her client had no time or options to respond differently, the lawyer said. Y.’s car had been blocked by aggressive men who had threatened him seriously. She called on the Court to dismiss her client from all prosecution, as he had not acted “in cold blood.”
“I feared for my life and acted out of fear. … It has never been my intention to hurt. Akeem was hit by a bullet by accident,” Y. read from a written statement in his final word.
He will learn his fate in three weeks’ time.
Source: The Daily Herald Twelve years requested for officer who fatally shot Akeem Isidora