So said Assistant Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams
SARAWEE, Stann Creek District, Tues. Feb. 27, 2018– On the heels of the arraignment of eight law enforcement officers in the Orange Walk Magistrate’s Court for the murder of Ardiel Salazar, 26, who was beaten to death at his home in Orange Walk Town by the lawmen during their investigation of the reported theft of a cell phone last Thursday morning, three Dangriga policemen are being investigated for negligence in the death of Humphrey Mitchell, 44, a businessman of Sarawee who died while in police custody after he was arrested on a committal warrant for $80 that he owed the court.
While Mitchell was being driven by police from his home village at Mile 4 on the Stann Creek Valley Road, to the Dangriga Police Station to be sent to jail, Mitchell jumped out of the moving vehicle and slammed his head on the guard rail placed on the side of the road on the curve.
As a result, Mitchell suffered massive head and body injuries and was rushed to the nearby Southern Regional Hospital at about 3:30 Thursday afternoon, but nothing much could have been done to save him.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (AP) Chester Williams said that the death could have been prevented, if Mitchell had been made to sit on the back seat in the cab between two of the officers. Williams said that there was no clear reason why this was not done, and instead, Mitchell was put into the pan of the pickup along with a policeman to guard him, but his hands were not handcuffed, which made it easy for him to attempt to escape.
The Commander said that they are investigating the death from all angles and have seen Mitchell’s body at the morgue, and saw no signs of violence on it. He had not been beaten, said Williams, who said that the attempted escape and accident were due to the negligence of the police, and they will be made to answer.
ACP Williams also said that the mobile unit is a new pickup which came equipped with cameras, but the camera was disconnected, so the fatal incident was not captured. This, again, is negligence, said ACP Williams, because the camera should be functioning at all times and the driver should have ensured that the camera was working properly.
The three policemen will face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty. The file will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions in order for her to determine whether criminal charges can be brought against the three officers.
A relative of Mitchell said that Mitchell’s run-in with the law started last year when a Jamaican man went to his business place, the T&H Cool Spot and Fried Chicken, and bought some drinks, but did not pay. There was an altercation between the two of them. We were told that the man punched Mitchell and Mitchell stabbed him. The man made a report to police and Mitchell was arrested and charged. He was taken to court and was fined $680, a fine he has been paying – and of which he had already paid $600. He thus had a remaining balance of only $80 to pay.
Police said that he had stopped making payments of the fine, and a committal for the $80 was made out to remand him to prison.
Mitchell’s niece does not believe that Mitchell jumped to his death, because he had been happy, since his business was doing well and his wife was coming from Jamaica to be with him, since he was building a house in Dangriga.
She also said that Mitchell knows the road well and would not have tried to escape from a moving vehicle near a road rail, which would impede his escape. She said that there are many questions that need to be answered.
Derrington Ramirez, chairman of the Sarawee Village Council, told us that he and Mitchell were friends, and they would often go fishing. Mitchell was well-known in the village, and was well-liked. He will be missed by all who knew him, he said.
Mitchell is survived by his five children, who live in England, and his wife.