The police officer who hit Aaron Rolle with a baton a day before he was found dead in a Southern Police Station cell last month denies that he used excessive force on the suspect and says his strikes could not have caused his death.
A coroner’s inquest is being held to determine just how the 20-year-old died.
Police Constable Akiel Smith took the witness stand yesterday in day three of the inquest.
A pathologist determined that Rolle, who died on February 9, suffered a ruptured intestine and haemorrhaging.
Mr. Smith testified that he met Rolle for the first time when his colleague Police Constable Kyle Smith interviewed him in the charge room.
He said at the time the suspect appeared to be “stressed” and not frail and sluggish as Kyle testified.
Rolle was arrested for shopbreaking and armed robbery.
The witness said at that time Rolle told the officers that he didn’t want to waste their time and decided to show them the places he robbed.
Mr. Smith said Rolle took the officers to a bar and clothing store on Taylor and East Streets.
He added that the suspect also carried them to a green wooden house where they arrested Anthony Fowler for possession of stolen goods.
Once they returned to the Southern Police Station he said he and his colleague took Rolle to the charge room to complete the interview.
The witness said once Kyle walked away, Rolle said, “Officer I working with you why would you put me in the same station as him (Fowler)?”
Mr. Smith said he ignored him and his colleague returned.
Mr. Smith said only minutes after Kyle began the interview Rolle jumped on the interview desk and attempted to jump out of a nearby window.
He said they both tried to restrain Rolle.
Mr. Smith said as a defence tactic, he used the wooden baton and hit Rolle several times on the thigh, hip and in the stomach area.
The witness said the “struggle” lasted only a few seconds.
He said during the struggle, he heard Rolle say that he had AIDS.
Mr. Smith said the officers never completed the interview and Rolle was placed back in his cell.
During cross-examination by attorney Christina Galanis, who represents the Rolle family, Mr. Smith denied that he used all of his strength to strike Rolle with the baton.
Mr. Smith said he had only learnt about the cause of Rolle’s death in the media and said he was surprised.
“I really was surprised because I didn’t think what happened could have caused that,” he said.
The witness admitted that the baton was a blunt object but maintained that it was not used with enough force to cause life-threatening injuries.
Ms. Galanis later suggested that he used the baton to beat a confession out of Rolle.
But, Mr. Smith denied this.
“Anyone who knows me knows that is not in my character,” he said.
He further said that if Rolle had complained of any pain it would have been the police’s obligation to take him to the hospital.
However, the witness said Rolle never complained.
He added that he was surprised that Rolle had “a surge of energy” to try to escape police custody.
Next on the witness stand was Corporal 2595 Dion Neely, who was the Southern Station’s orderly on February 9.
He said he arrived to work around 11:35 p.m. on February 8.
Mr. Neely testified that his shift began around midnight and he accounted for five suspects at the station – one of whom was Rolle.
The witness said while on his shift he asked Rolle twice if he was well.
He said Rolle replied “yes.”
The witness said the suspect only used the bathroom once and at no time complained that he was in pain.
Officer Neely said he left the station around 6:50 a.m. to pick up another officer.
He said he returned to the station around 7:35 a.m. and observed an ambulance leaving the Quakoo Street police station.
The matter continues on Monday before Acting Coroner Janine Weech-Gomez.