Seventeen months after four police officers shot and killed Azario Major outside a business establishment after a reported confrontation, a jury in the coroner’s court ruled the 31-year-old’s death to be a homicide by manslaughter on Wednesday.
The jury reached their findings after three weeks of testimony in the attention-grabbing case involving a police shooting which was disputed in a viral video social media post. Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Cordell Frazier can now decide if his Office will prosecute the officers.
Major was killed in December 2021 after police said he acted erratically, leaving the bar and lounge and then returning to confront officers. His family said they never believed the officers’ account and hired a US private investigator who revealed inconsistencies– none of the gun casings dispensed were from the gun found in Major’s possession; his phone pinged distances away from where the incident occurred and appeared to be deactivated; and only one officer reportedly fired at Major.
During the inquest, the court was told that Major was on medication for a mental disorder and often hallucinated. And that after officers heard, “Gun. Gun. He has a gun!” the four officers fired their weapons.
What’s the impact of the inquest in this case?
The coroner’s inquest is not a criminal trial but it is simply a fact-finding mission about a person’s death while making it public. The verdict is not legally binding and no one involved will be criminally charged, convicted, or sentenced unless the Prosecution Office decides to press charges. A verdict is read and, after the inquest, the jury usually makes recommendations on how to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.
Some people considered this case a victory since rarely in the Bahamas, police-involved shootings are ruled a crime. Some have long argued that officers abuse their power and some shootings are not ‘justifiable’ though officers may say they were “in fear for their lives.”
The inquest revealed the officer or officers responsible for his death and compelled them to testify. This case puts every police-involved shooting under close public scrutiny.