THE family of Azario Major rightly celebrated the coroner’s court verdict yesterday.
After a detailed hearing, the five-member jury in the case delivered their verdict that Mr Major’s police-involved killing in 2021 was homicide by manslaughter.
The family had raised questions repeatedly since the death outside Woody’s Bar on Fire Trail Road on Boxing Day in 2021.
They spent thousands of dollars of their own money investigating his death. They commissioned experts to examine the evidence.
There were 45 bullet casings from the scene, and the evidence that the jury heard convinced them that this was a case of manslaughter.
The Acting Director of Public Prosecutions will now review the findings and decide whether to charge any of the police officers in this case with a crime.
For the family, there is a sense of relief, and justice – a feeling that for a long time was so far from reality as they sought to prove their contention that Mr Major’s death was an unlawful killing.
This case also shows how important it is to have a functional coroner’s court system. For too long, police-involved shootings were left on hold when it came to being heard. A considerable backlog of such investigations has built up in the system – bringing justice to neither the families nor the officers involved in such cases.
For now, though, we can listen to the words of Azario’s brother, Azano, who said: “I’m just happy that at least for tonight my family can have peace.”
Azario’s sister, Fredia, hopes that this will bring reform, saying: “We’re looking for the justice system to be revamped and changed.”
Ensuring the coroner system is functioning again has been the first of those changes – and thanks to that, a verdict has been reached in this case.
But beyond such cases, there needs to be a confidence that accusations against officers will be taken seriously.
This week in The Tribune, we have reported on the lengthy investigation into an officer accused of striking children as punishment in a school. It is hard to fathom quite how such an investigation could take so long when it simply involves what occurred in one room with a limited number of witnesses to interview.
For the Major family, a video circulated on social media helped them to put their case that their brother’s death needed to be investigated thoroughly and independently.
What will it take to ensure that citizens feel confident that any and all such accusations against police – from the smallest infraction through to claims of unlawful killings – will always be handled appropriately?
We will now wait to see what happens next in this particular case, but it is already a landmark case in the courts.
With criminal charges to be decided on, Fredia Major has already declared the case has brought one thing – hope.
She said: “I feel like Azario’s name is going to live on and it’s going to create hope for so many people in The Bahamas for so many years to come.”
We must all seek the right outcome from such incidents – justice requires nothing less.