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American-Belizean suing for false imprisonment

He is suing the Attorney General of Belize; the Department of Immigration; Edgar Cano, Senior Immigration Officer; and the Belize Police Department

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 2, 2018– An American man, Norman Kaufman, who became a naturalized Belizean, has filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court Registry naming four defendants: the Attorney General of Belize; the Department of Immigration; Edgar Cano, Senior Immigration Officer; and the Belize Police Department.

Kaufman, a resident of Tower Hill, Orange Walk District, is seeking exemplary and aggravated damages from the court for false imprisonment. He is also seeking aggravated and exemplary damages for malicious prosecution.

Kaufman filed the suit on Wednesday, June 27, through the law firm of Myles and Banner. The court has not yet set a date to hear the claim.

In his statement of claim, Kaufman, 63, stated that he relocated to Belize in 1991 and established permanent residency and became a naturalized Belizean in 2002. He is a certified public accountant licensed by the State of North Carolina.

On Thursday, December 14, 2017, at around noon, Kaufman was having lunch at his home when he was told by his tenant’s son that police were downstairs and wanted to see him. He lives on the upstairs flat of the property, which he owns. The downstairs flat is rented out to Jorge Briceño and his family.

When Kaufman went downstairs, there were five policemen waiting for him. Two of the policemen were armed with assault rifles. According to Kaufman, one of the policemen took his social security card and he was then asked for his Belizean passport, which he went upstairs and got.

He said that when he returned with the passport, one of the officers informed him that it was suspected that his nationality papers were obtained through fraudulent means and that an immigration officer was on the way to his house.

Kaufman claimed that when the immigration officer came, he asked for Kaufman’s expired US passport and Belizean passport. After he handed over his expired passports, the immigration officer informed him that he would be taken down to the Immigration office for questioning, because the Immigration Department had received a tip that his Belizean passport was obtained by fraud.

He said that while he was detained, his tenant, Briceño, learned that word had circulated that members of the department were intent on finding some grounds for detaining him. The immigration officer took Briceño’s common-law wife, Sonia Vasquez, into custody as well, while Kaufman was then taken to the Orange Walk Police Station. He was being detained in relation to Briceño’s wife, who Immigration officials later referred to as a prohibited immigrant.

According to Kaufman, while he was in custody, he was denied the right to make a phone call to his attorney. He claimed that, upon being denied the right to make a call to the US Embassy, Kaufman was told that the Embassy had been informed about his situation and that they were cooperating with the investigation.

Eventually, Kaufman was able to get through to his attorney, Mrs. Nazira Myles, and she visited him while he was in custody. Myles was informed by Edgar Cano, a senior Immigration officer, that Kaufman’s nationality papers were believed to have been fraudulently obtained and that he was being investigated by the Immigration Department.

After going back and forth with the immigration officer, Myles was eventually told that Kaufman would be charged with harboring a prohibited immigrant, contrary to the Immigration Act — the “prohibited immigrant” being Sonia Alina Salguero Briceño, the wife of his tenant.

Kaufman was kept in custody until Monday, although he explained to the police officers that he had to attend a case management hearing at the Supreme Court for an unrelated matter. The officers’ response was that they did not care, that he would be dealing with the Orange Walk magistrate.

During his detention period, he received a visit from Miguel Urbina on Saturday, December 16, 2017, but Kaufman claims that when Urbina attempted to visit him again, he was told by an officer with whom he is familiar that instructions had come from Belmopan that Kaufman should have no visitors and any officer who allowed him a visitor would be disciplined.

Kaufman’s attorney, however, was allowed to visit him, but was only allowed to speak to him through a small hole at the holding cell in the Orange Walk Police Station. He was not allowed to change his clothing for the weekend, he said.

According to Kaufman, on Monday, when he was taken from the cell, he did not go to the Magistrate’s Court, but was taken to his home where a search was conducted. Kaufman was not informed about the purpose of the search.

Kaufman was charged by Cano with harboring a prohibited immigrant. The charge, however, had absolutely nothing to do with why he was detained. He was never questioned about Vasquez, or her status in Belize, his court papers indicated.

The court papers stated, “Due to the high-handed actions of the 3rd Defendant (Cano) and police officers working with him, the Claimant was deprived of his liberty without justification and the 3rd Defendant’s action to pursue the charge was actuated by malice and deceit and constitutes an oppressive act.”

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