By Observer Media’s Gemma Handy
There was nothing to mark the spot yesterday – no police tape, no barrier – where a father-of-two had been gunned down in the heart of a residential community hours earlier.
Pink petals that had fallen from an overhead tree as if in floral tribute scattered Gray’s Farm roadside where Mannie James fell – the tragic climax of a dramatic chase by police and Defence Force officers.
The fatal shots fired at the 45-year-old from Bendals were witnessed by numerous residents including his two children, aged six and eight, eyewitnesses told Observer.
James appeared to be unarmed as the shots were fired at his retreating back, they claimed. On Tuesday morning, a sense of disbelief still pervaded the area.
Residents testified to a peaceful, hardworking man who toiled seven days a week to provide for his partner and their son and daughter.
Precisely how the events unfolded remains the subject of investigations but things appear to have taken a deadly turn after a routine stop-and-search operation on Lauchland Benjamin Drive around 9pm Monday.
Police say three occupants of one vehicle were “acting suspiciously”.
The driver was signalled to stop, but instead turned around and sped away. During the ensuing pursuit, police claim several shots were fired at them, to which they returned fire.
The two passengers are said to have got out of the car during the chase, escaping on foot.
James continued driving towards Gray’s Farm where he eventually abandoned the Suzuki Vitara and ran.
“The officers continued pursuing the assailant and he was subsequently apprehended with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to his body,” a police statement said.
Video widely circulated on social media shows a man being chased by uniformed officers. Another shows the man on the ground as officers appear to attempt to handcuff him. A third shows him unresponsive, being dragged along the ground, before being thrown unceremoniously into the open bed of a police pick-up.
One eyewitness, Nicky Phillip, told Observer she watched as James tried to drive down a narrow street but was blocked by an oncoming car.
“That’s when he got out of his jeep and started running. The officer and the soldier man started running behind him and that’s when the soldier man shot him in his back,” she said.
“We have no idea why. We were all outside – his kids, everyone. His kids saw when he got shot, they saw everything.”
James’ long-time partner Mariesa Hixon also heard the commotion, running inside her house in terror as the shots rang out.
Yesterday, she was too traumatised to speak but her sister Kaiesha Hixon said she saw an “army man shooting” at James.
“The same time they bust the corner a shot burst; his daughter was out there. I pushed her down on the floor to protect her,” she explained.
“We are just trying to figure out what started all of this.” Up to lunchtime yesterday, James’ children were still unaware that their father would not be coming home that night.
“They believe their father is at the hospital; they still they don’t know that he’s dead,” Phillip, Mariesa Hixon’s aunt, said.
“Every time we try to tell them, water comes out of our eyes and we don’t want to show them that.”
Phillip described James, who sold jet ski tours to tourists on Jolly Beach, as a “very quiet person”.
“He goes nowhere, he works seven days a week, rain, sun or storm. All he cared about was finding a meal for his kids. Even on his birthdays, Mannie prefers to be at work.
“We are very disgusted with what the officers did. If you’re running someone and you want to shoot them, what happened to their foot? Why his back?
“The police were so close they could have kicked him down. But no, they prefer to pull up their hand and shoot him.
“The whole road had an uproar with the police last night. People were coming from everywhere. They were really upset because they know Mannie is a peaceful person.
“Everyone wanted to know what he did so wrong, how such a peaceful person could end up in something like this,” Phillip added.
Another witness said she believes James was already dead as officers tried to shackle him on the ground.
“They killed an innocent man for no reason,” she claimed.
“Then they threw him in their truck like a dog. But he wasn’t a dog; he was a hardworking man who supported his pickney. Regardless of what happened, there was no reason to shoot him down like that.
“They could have done a warning shot or shot him in the foot. But they shot him in the back and he dropped down dead.”
The woman, who asked not to be named, said she had known James, who had previously lived in the area for almost a decade, for several years.
“Mannie was a good man, he never trouble people. He go to work Sunday to Sunday. The police never come here, I never hear Mannie involved in nothing. So why shoot him like a dog,” she added.
Comments on social media yesterday from James’ shocked friends also paid tribute to a “kind” and “lovely guy”.
The police statement said the force was “saddened by the unfortunate outcome of this incident and expresses sympathy to the victim’s family”.
“The Commissioner of Police, Mr Atlee Rodney, is appealing to the general public to continue cooperating with the police in the lawful execution of their duties, especially during these stop-and-search operations,” it said.
“The Commissioner is further assuring the general public that the police will continue working in their best interest in ensuring the safety and security of every citizen and visitor in the country.”
Anyone with information in connection with the incident is asked to call CID at 462-3913 or Crimestoppers at 800-Tips (8477).