General — 22 August 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Canadian family threatens lawsuit against Belize police

SAN IGNACIO—The family of Jeffrey Furgula, a Canadian man who fell into a coma while in a jail cell in San Ignacio and who later died at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City, says that they have rejected an undisclosed settlement offer from the Government of Belize and will proceed with a lawsuit, because, in their view, money can’t bring their loved one back, and only seeking the full recourse of the law will help to ensure that no one else suffers the same ill fate.

“I don’t want an apology; I want accountability…”

Amandala was advised by an official of the Police Department today that while disciplinary action has been taken against an officer whose negligence has been fingered, and who remains on duty after facing a fine of an amount that was not disclosed to us, criminal charges have not been levied. The matter was submitted for advice to the Director of Public Prosecutions and forwarded for a coroner’s inquest, the police official told us.

PC Ernesto Buckley was charged with neglect of duty and committing an act of prejudice to good order and discipline, for which he was reportedly found guilty, the police official told us, in the first police update our newsroom has received on the case since the matter was detailed in a press release 20 months ago.

At the time, police had reported that at approximately 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, January 27, 2013, San Ignacio police had checked cell no.3 where Jeffrey Donald Furgula, 35, of Winnepeg, Canada, had been detained. Police said that Furgula was seen in the cell lying face up, and he was unresponsive. Blood was in his nose and he was apparently unconscious, they added.

The family alleges that Jeffrey Furgula died in police custody as a result of negligence

Furgula was taken to the San Ignacio Community Hospital and then to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital for medical treatment, but died two days later.

Police said that Furgula had been detained on the night of Saturday, January 26, 2013, in the Savannah area of San Ignacio Town, “apparently under the heavy influence of alcohol.”

Since Furgala was unable to provide an address to indicate where he lived, he was taken into custody “for his own safety,” they added.

The police report said that, “…witnesses in the other cell blocks indicate that on Sunday, 27th January, 2013, sometime around 1:00 a.m. they heard a loud sound which sounded like someone falling, and thereafter a loud snoring coming from cell no.3, which was where Jeffery Donald Furgula was detained.”

The police report ended with the assurance that, “The Commissioner of Police has since launched a criminal and internal investigation into this incident…”

Those investigations were to be conducted by members of the Criminal Investigation Branch and Professional Standards Branch, respectively.

An online petition posted by Furgula’s mother, Fern Tiberio, says, “Surveillance tapes of the police station clearly showed that Mr. Furgala required immediate medical attention. He was left unattended, for approximately nine hours, and was found in a coma on the morning of Sunday, January 27, 2013 in a jail cell.”

It added that Furgula was in a coma when he was handcuffed and taken to the San Ignacio Hospital and later transferred to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City.

“An autopsy report received March 26, 2013, was absent of information from a toxicity report,” it said, claiming that a request for results of the toxicity report was met with resistance.

The mother’s online petition said that, “Mr. Furgala’s death occurred as a direct result of the negligence and inhumane treatment while in the care and custody of the San Ignacio police.”

Metro News, a popular news source in Canada, is reporting that Furgula’s family have rejected a cash settlement offer from the Government of Belize and they plan to proceed with trial, on allegations of negligence.

Furgula was reportedly vacationing in Belize with his girlfriend when he was detained by police.

According to Metro News, Tiberio and other relatives have insisted that Furgala was injured earlier in the night and was suffering from the after-effects when he was apprehended. The mother said that police ignored her son after locking him up, although Belize law requires police to check on a detainee every 45 minutes.

The police officer we spoke with today said that routine checks should be made on detainees on the hour, and Buckley faced disciplinary measures because he had apparently not made the required checks which could have alerted him earlier to Furgula’s condition.

Tiberio and her other son, Chris Furgala, are now pursuing a lawsuit against Belize police, claiming negligence.

“They left him for nine hours with not a chair to sit on, not a drink of water. It’s going to take years and I don’t care . . . I don’t want an apology, I want accountability,” the news report quoted Tiberio as saying.

It added that the family’s attorney was recently presented a cash settlement on the condition that they would sign a non-disclosure agreement. It added that a pre-trial hearing should be taking place in Belize next month, September, and Furgula’s relatives plan to attend the trial.

According to Metro News, Tiberio had also indicated she has contacted the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in Washington, D.C. regarding the matter.

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