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Police kill man in Haiti over allegedly stolen rice

From Karl Penhaul, CNN
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  • Dead man's mother identified him as Gentile Cherie, a 20-year-old carpenter
  • Companion with him was wounded, and third man nearby says hit by stray bullet
  • A CNN crew spotted police stopping the two men Thursday afternoon
  • CNN crew heard 4 gunshots while getting out of the car, saw 2 men on ground, shot in back

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Haitian police shot and killed a man they suspected of stealing rice in earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince on Thursday, leaving his body on the sidewalk for hours as his family mourned.

The dead man's mother identified him as Gentile Cherie, a 20-year-old carpenter. A companion with him was wounded, and a third man nearby was hit by what he said was a stray bullet.

Witnesses said no one was looting at the time. Josef Josnain, the owner of a shop near the city's airport, said the five bags of rice the men were found with fell from a truck and passers-by picked them up. And Cherie's wounded companion, who did not give his name, said a truck driver gave them the rice.

"A truck stopped and we jumped on, and the driver gave us the rice as a gift," he said. "But the cops shot us."

A CNN crew spotted police stopping the two men Thursday afternoon. They stopped to film the arrests, but while they were getting out of the car, they heard four gunshots and saw the men on the ground. Both had been shot in the back.

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A third man, Auxilus Maxo, was wounded by a stray bullet near the scene. He told CNN he was hit in the side while waiting for a bus -- after applying for a job as a police officer.

Marc Justin, a senior police officer in the area, said he would investigate the killing and said there was no shoot-to-kill order for suspected looters.

"Nobody can do this in any country," Justin said. "Even if somebody was stealing a bag of rice, nobody has a right to do this."

Justin said he had called for an ambulance for the wounded man, but none appeared. Instead, the man was picked up by members of the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH who happened on the scene after the shooting.

Shopkeepers retrieved the rice left behind.

CNN sought comment from the Haitian government about Thursday's incident. There was no immediate response.

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Sporadic looting has broken out in Port-au-Prince, where relief workers have struggled to get food, water and medical aid into the hands of survivors of last week's magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Reports of police firing on looters have surfaced as well, but CNN has been unable to independently confirm them.

The Haitian National Police have been criticized for alleged abuses for years. A 2009 report by Human Rights Watch criticized its officers for the use of "excessive and indiscriminate force," including involvement in kidnappings, torture and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, the force "is largely ineffective in preventing and investigating crime," it found.

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Reforming the national police is one of the major goals of the U.N. mission dispatched to Haiti after the 2004 revolt that forced then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. But a 2009 report for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded, "The relationship between the population and the Haitian National Police is still characterized by suspicion, accusations of brutality, human rights violations and complicity with criminal and corrupt elements."

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An Amnesty International report last year found the number of reported abuses appeared to be on the decline -- but at least two people died in police custody, and reports of excessive force, fatal shootings and warrantless arrests continued.

Two-and-a-half hours after the shooting Thursday, Cherie's body remained on the sidewalk.

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