A police officer has been charged with murder in connection with the death of 27-year-old Tyson Rodriguez, a prisoner who had been in police custody and who, a post-mortem of his body revealed, died under brutal circumstances that differed from the type of death the officers in whose custody he had been, claimed that he suffered.
Sergeant Julio Shal, 41, of the Placencia Police Station, was taken to the Dangriga Magistrate’s Court today, Wednesday, and arraigned on a charge of murder. He was then remanded to the Belize Central Prison until March 13 next year, when he will return to court.
The criminal charge against Shal came at the conclusion of an internal police investigation carried out by the Professional Standards Branch of the Police Department, prompted by lingering questions about the circumstances under which Rodriguez died on Friday, November 22, 2013, at about 10:30 p.m.
Initial police reports were that “[Rodriguez was] handcuffed and placed in the pan of a pickup truck and while en route to the said location [Placencia], just before reaching Chabil Mar Resort in Placencia, Tyson Rodriguez reportedly jumped out of the pan of the pick-up truck and escaped.
“As a result, the area was searched and the team was alerted by two Hispanic male persons in the area that they saw a male person in the water floating in the vicinity of Chabel Mar about ½ mile south of the Police Station. Police went into the water, where they retrieved the body of a male person who was identified as Tyson Rodriguez. Tyson Rodriguez was taken to Dr. Caballero who pronounced him dead at 10:45 p.m.”
According to the post-mortem performed on Rodriguez’s body at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital on Monday, November 25, and witnessed by an attorney retained by Rodriguez’s family, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Rodriguez was instead beaten and his head held down in sand, causing him to suffocate. Doctor Mario Estradabran, police coroner, certified the cause of death to be “asphyxiation by broncheal aspiration sand – beach type and multiple traumatism to chest – trauma type.”
Matura Shepherd said that she saw sand in his lungs and nostrils, and there were signs of violence to his chest. She said that the injuries were consistent with him being beaten and his head held down in sand to suffocate him.
Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, had not believed the police version of the events and had ordered an immediate investigation into the death of the alleged criminal, which began on Saturday, November 23, and concluded on Tuesday, November 26. The files were handed over to the Director of Public Prosecution that same day after the autopsy was conducted, Monday.
Rodriguez had been suspected by police of being one of three persons who had attacked and brutally beaten two Canadians, husband and wife, 59 and 61 respectively, in Placencia on Thursday, November 21, 2013, before 9 p.m. David Baier was almost drowned by his attackers, and his wife, Sonia, suffered a broken jaw.
Stolen from the couple’s home were an assortment of jewelry, cash and electronic items. The culprits then escaped in the couple’s white GMC Envoy vehicle bearing licence plate L/P SC-1022.
Police, after chasing and finding the stolen GMC abandoned about 100 yards into a feeder road off Chan Chen Road between the villages of Xaibe and Patchakan, searched the immediate area, but no one was found.
While the vehicle was being taken to the Corozal Police Station through Xaibe, however, Customs officials identified a slimly-built man dressed in a white T-shirt and brown short pants who was sitting at the bus stop in Xaibe Village near the Xaibe Roman Catholic School, to be one of the male occupants of the Envoy.
Upon seeing the police, however, the man ran into the school compound, and police and Customs officials, with assistance from the villagers, pursued him into some high bushes adjacent to the school compound and captured him. The man was identified as Tyson Rodriguez, 27, of #1102 Benguche Area, Dangriga Town.
According to the initial police report filed by the officers who caught Rodriguez, after being interviewed, Rodriguez agreed to take the police to an area in Placencia, where, presumably, the stolen items were. Rodriguez was then handcuffed, put in the pan of the police pickup and while en route to the said location, just before reaching Chabil Mar Resort in Placencia, Tyron Rodriguez reportedly jumped out of the pan of the pickup truck and escaped.
Matura-Shepherd has told the media that the police had kept them informed of what was happening, and had cooperated fully with the family. She said that the family will not interfere with the investigation, which is still being carried out. They are convinced, however, that Sergeant Julio Shal did not act alone, and are expecting the other policemen to be charged.
However, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl Vidal, said that according to the reports presented to her, there is no evidence that the other two officers participated in the death of Rodriguez. It is unlikely that they will be arrested.