Monday, October 22, 2007

Arrest of William Forrest Coleman

February 7, 1916. ARREST & DETENTION W.F. COLEMAN.

Following his arrest and detention in a Honduran jail. W.F. Coleman wrote explaining the circumstances of his arrest to the American Consular Agent who was then James M. Mitchell, Jr., a close friend of the family:From W.F. Coleman to Dr. J.M. Mitchell,Jr., American Consular Agent, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, dated February 8, 1916:

Dear Sir: I beg to hand you the following account of mal-treatment at the hands of authorities here, not for the purpose of obtaining monetary remuneration, but that it may serve to put an end to the many petty annoyances to which we have been subjected during the past few years, and which have become remarkably more frequent and more annoying due to the fact that they have been allowed to pass by without any attention on the part of the American Goverment. If your instance will serve to fix the attention of the American Goverment on the abuses to which we are being subjected, and obtain a disavowel of the tyrannical and arbitrary acts of high officials, the extremely unpleasant and dangerous experience through which I passed will not have been in vain. About 2:30 p.m. of the 7th instant I was “cited” by a policeman to appear at the police station. As I have always made it a point, no matter how inconvenient, to obey these “citations” on the instant, I went immediately to the police station and presented myself to the officer at the desk whom I supposed to be the chief of police. I was asked if my name was William Coleman. I replied that it was. I was then informed that I was fined one peso for not having my dwelling decorated on the first of February. I answered that I had not done so because I had considered that it was a voluntary act and not obligatory, but that it had not been my intention to do so in deference to the custom of the country, but not finding suitable material (with) which to do so, it had not been done. I based my action to a great extent on the fact that my dwelling house is in the suburbs of the town, and in fact, not within the city limits. Also on the fact that none of my neighbors had decorated and there noticed that none of these had been fined. I reiterated my belief that such act was not obligatory and refused to pay the fine. Fortunately the amount involved was so insignificant, being only 35 cents U.S. currency, that this did not enter into the matter in so far as determined to the action I took. I was then informed that I had to pay. On my reiteration that I would not pay, the chief called up (telephoned) the Governor, (an act entirely irregular, as such matters pertain exclusively to the Alcalde Politico) and informed him that that I, calling my name, had refused to pay. While I could not catch all of the conversation, I inferred from their succeeding actions that drastic measures were to be taken. I was then ordered into the section set for the barracks, and in a few minutes was called into a cell set apart for drunks–I found myself in a small room without any ventilation except what could come through a hole in the door about six inches square, with the floor partly boarded and partly bare ground, covered with the litter of its recent occupants for whom it had served as a water-closet as well as sleeping apartment, without light and without anything to sit upon except the ground, which was running with vermin and uncleanness. I was informed that I was “incomunicado” and was not allowed to send word to anyone. In this place, in a standing position, without light, water or nourishment of any kind, I was kept until about 6 p.m. Then as I had become faint from the position I was compelled to keep and from the lack of water and ventilation I requested the attention of a physician. No attention was paid to my request though informed that I was suffering. About one hour later, however, I was informed that Doctor Paz had been called. I believe that this concession on their part was actuated only by the activity of yourself and other friends. The Doctor came to see me and went away to prepare the medicine that I required. He returned shortly with some, telling me to take it with water. I asked the guard for water and was informed that there was water in the cell. I groped around in the dark and found an earthen vessel with some kind of fluid in it which appeared to me rather the vomitings of some late occupant of the cell, consequently entirely undrinkable. In the meantime, the Doctor having heard my request for water, begged them to give me some that I could take the medicine. At his request it was brought to me. Shortly after this, Mr. F.P. Blas, my partner, after a great deal of trouble as you are aware, was allowed to see me. He wished to bring me something to (eat), but in the condition I was in and with my surroundings it would have been impossible for me to have taken even a mouthful. I requested a cup of coffee and prepared to spend the night as best I could, as no provision had been made for a seat, much less a board to lie upon. At eight o’clock the door was opened and I was informed that I was at liberty. After resting a few minutes in the station I requested to be informed on what ground my release had been ordered. I could get no satisfaction whatever from the Chief excepting that it was by order of his Superior. This is the true relation of the incidents as they occurred and are in no way exaggerated for the occasion. The condition of the cell can be verified at any time and the hours that I was confined in a standing position are known to all my friends. At my age, and being actually under treatment for stomach trouble, as you are aware, it is remarkable that I was able to retain sensibility for so long a time. I beg to repeat my desire for this to be carried as far as you can get the American goverment to listen to you, not for my benefit that (may) accrue to me directly, but that such action may be taken as will prevent a like experience for another.
Yours very sincerely,

W.F. Coleman

NOTE: Enclosure # 6; a follow up letter to Dr. J.M. Mitchell,Jr., American Consular Agent for San Pedro Sula, from W.F. Coleman, dated February 10, 1916.

Dear Sir: Referring to the subject matter of my communication to you of the 8th instant, I have brought to mind an incident that happened some two days previous to my imprisonment which might have some bearing on the irregularity of the proceedings taken with me. In conversing with the Alcalde Policia who exercises the same functionas the Police Commissioner with us, regarding the orders given for the cleaning up the town, he remarked that he had been compelled to place some fines, but that the work as a whole had been well done. He said further, "I was sent a list of those who had not decorated their houses on February 1st, but I refused to collect the fines indicated as I did not consider it in keeping with the spirit that should make it a voluntary act, and that, furthermore, it would be bitterly opposed as not in accordance with previous customs and traditions." He indicated that, very probably, the fines would be collected through other channels by order of the Governor. I also wish to inform you that I have consulted my lawyer on the legal facts, and am informed that the proceedings were entirely irregular. Begging that you will addition this to my above referred to communication of the 8th, I am very respectfully, W.F. Coleman

(Source: Letters of Dr. J.M. Mitchell,Jr., American Consular Agent for San Pedro Sula, 1916.)

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