BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 3, 2015–Five men who police say were involved in the armed robbery of FirstCaribbean International Bank on Friday morning were arraigned in the #3 Magistrate’s Court this afternoon on robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery charges before newly appointed Magistrate Deborah Rogers.
Four of the five men – Patrick Jones, 22, a laborer of Gabourel Lane; Jarrett Crawford, 30, a laborer of Gabourel Lane; Jermaine Belgrave, 33, a laborer of Courtenay Crescent; and Emerson Skyers, 24, an unemployed of Cemetery Road – were charged with one count of robbery.
The court prosecutor, Corporal Kennard Clarke, indicated to Magistrate Rogers that no plea should be taken, because the amount of money that the men are accused of stealing, $52,753.25, dictates that the matter be heard on indictment at the Supreme Court.
Attorney Bryan Neal, who represented Jones, Belgrave, Skyers and Castillo, told the court that the men should be allowed to enter a plea because after the file goes to the Director of Public Prosecutions for her to prepare the indictment, several months might pass, and nothing would be lost if they entered their pleas now.
Attorney Leroy Banner, who is representing Jarrett Crawford, supported Neal’s argument.
The Magistrate agreed with the attorneys and the four men pleaded not guilty to one count of robbery.
The fifth accused, Erwin Castillo, 33, a stevedore of Racecourse Street, was charged along with the four men for one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.
Clarke, however, objected to the granting of bail to Castillo, citing the prevalence of the offense and its seriousness. Clarke told the court that conspiracy to commit robbery carries the same penalty as robbery, which is seven years in prison, and due to the seriousness of the offence, he took the position that bail should not be granted to Castillo.
“There is a strong likelihood that the accused would interfere with the police’s investigation, which is still on-going,” Clarke submitted.
Clarke also added that properties (meaning the stolen money) have not yet been recovered and if granted bail, the accused could hinder the prosecution’s case.
In his rebuttal to the prosecutor, Neal told the court that the prosecution has not provided the court with any evidence – neither a videotape nor statements from witnesses. He also submitted that conspiracy to commit robbery is not a prevalent offence and that Castillo was not at the scene of the alleged robbery and pointed no gun at anyone.
“No matter how serious the offense, an accused person has a constitutional right to be granted bail,” Neal argued.
After listening to the two attorneys, however, Magistrate Rogers ruled in favor of the prosecution and denied bail to Castillo and the other four men, saying that the offenses for which they have been charged are linked.
Rogers told Neal that he has the option of applying for Supreme Court bail under the Amendment to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act.
Banner argued for the prosecution to give the defense whatever evidence they had at that time, before full disclosure is made.
Banner told the court, “You cannot charge someone without evidence. Whatever the prosecution has, we would like to see it.”
After the legal wrangling between the court prosecutor and the two attorneys, a disclosure date of September 30 was agreed on, and the five men were remanded to prison until that date, when they are expected to return to court.
On Friday morning, five men, three of them brandishing guns, stormed into the First Caribbean Bank branch at San Cas Plaza, the same compound in which Save U supermarket is located, between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., and one of them shouted, “Nobody move, nobody get hurt!”
The five men made no effort to hide their faces.
A number of frightened customers were made to lie on the floor, as the robbers, moving quickly, brought in two of the bank’s security guards, whom they frisked for weapons before putting them to lie on the floor with the customers.
Two armed robbers stood guard over those lying down, while the other three robbers jumped over the counter and helped themselves to what would later be announced to have been over $50,000, from the startled bank tellers.
The robbery seemed to have been over in a flash, as the robbers dashed out of the bank with their loot in their hands and scrambled into a waiting green van parked in front of the bank -which is a stone’s throw away from a police booth in the compound, the policeman inside unaware that the bank had just been robbed.
Some minutes later, police officers descended on the plaza, which is near the roundabout by Pallotti High School. The bank was closed briefly while investigators took statements from bank employees and reviewed footage from the bank’s security cameras.
Within a few hours after the robbery, police called a press briefing at Precinct 4, located at the corner of Chetumal and Albert Hoy Streets in Belama, where the Precinct Commander, Superintendent Linden Flowers, told reporters that three of the suspected robbers already were in police custody, and that their investigation was continuing.
“Yes, I can inform you that money was stolen from the bank, but I can’t tell you how much [yet].” Flowers said.
Flowers added that the three persons whom police have arrested [at that point] are suspects that were seen on the bank’s surveillance cameras, and that they would be charged for the robbery.
While none of the three persons police arrested had any of the stolen money on them or any of the firearms used in the robbery, Flowers confirmed that three firearms were used to commit the robbery.
Flowers said that police were seeking two other suspects and the green van that was the getaway vehicle.
He confirmed that an officer was at the police booth at the San Cas Plaza, but that he was unaware that a robbery had just taken place. The Precinct Commander said that he had spoken to the officer who was stationed at the booth, and had told him that he needed to be more alert when working in the area.
One customer who was in the line when the robbers struck shared his experience with Amandala.
Lloyd Neal said that as he walked into the bank, he jokingly said, “What a crowd is in here!”
Neal explained that he made the remark because it was very rare that he found such a crowd, about 10 persons, in the bank so early in the morning.
Neal, who is a retired teacher, recalled that he had joined other customers in the line who were watching the international news about the recovery of a plane that had crashed, when suddenly, he heard these words: “Everybody down on the floor.”
“My back was turned, but then I realized what was happening,” Neal said.
“The fellow said, ‘Comply, and nobody will get hurt. Everybody get down on the floor.’ I complied,” said Neal.
“Then they brought in the security guards and put them on the ground, and searched them. I think they were looking for guns or something on them. It was about three security guards in their uniforms,” Neal explained.
Neal said that three young, athletic-looking men jumped over the counter and then jumped back over quickly.
“Now at my age, 81, I am surprised that it had taken me so long to be caught up in a bank hold-up. It was done so quickly, you could see that it was planned,” Neal said.
Neal said that what was remarkable about the whole ordeal was that none of the robbers tried to hide their identities.
“The ones who jumped over the counter did not have guns in their hands, but the one who was guarding us and the one who stood by the door had guns. I think three of them had guns,” Neal explained.
In Friday’s robbery, one female bank employee reportedly suffered a minor injury, prompting the Christian Workers Union, which represents the bank’s workers, to issue a press statement from its president, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who praised the police’s decision to take statements from the bank’s staff on site, rather than at the police station.
Matura-Shepherd also added: “I condemn in the strongest possible terms this brazen robbery of the Bank. I hope anybody with information assists our law enforcement authorities.”
This is the second time that an early morning robbery has occurred at this branch of First Caribbean Bank. On March 1, 2013, four armed men stormed into the bank and made their way into the vault, from where they stole $230,000.
The money was put in two bags, with which the robbers casually walked out of the bank. An alert security guard at the San Cas Plaza played a key role in foiling the robbers’ plan, however.
The security guard and his supervisor pursued the robbers up the Philip Goldson Highway, and when the robbers attempted to escape across the river in a small skiff, they were met by heavily armed police who were waiting for them on both sides of the river.
Police were on the scene of the robbery almost instantly and had been pursuing the suspects as they travelled along the Northern Highway. Radio communications allowed police to be on both sides of the river, just as the robbers made their desperate attempt to escape with the stolen loot.
In their bid to escape with their lives, the robbers tossed one of the bags of money into the river and left the other bag inside the getaway skiff, as they tried to swim to safety on the other side of the river.
A shootout occurred between the robbers and police, and one robber was shot and killed as he attempted to go ashore on the south side of the river, in the vicinity of Lacroix Boulevard.
In that robbery, police recovered almost all of the stolen money, as well as two of the firearms used by the robbers.