Headline — 17 January 2018 — by Micah Goodin
Leela Vernon’s grandson shot dead

A police officer killed him, but said it was in  self-defense

PUNTA GORDA, Toledo District, Mon. Jan. 15, 2018– The death of Mario “Jun Jun” Vernon, Jr., 24, has sent shockwaves through the entire town of Punta Gorda not only because he was the grandson of the late “Queen of Brukdown,” Leela Vernon, and cousin of Punta Gorda mayor, Fern Gutierrez, but because he was shot by a police officer on duty.

In their report released on Sunday, police claimed that at about 9:30 p.m. they were on mobile patrol on George Price Street. There, they had received reports that Vernon was in a yard armed with a firearm.

Police further claimed that they proceeded to the area, where they saw him running, armed, in a nearby yard.

Vernon, according to police accounts, turned back and pointed a gun at an officer who was pursuing him.

As a result, the officer drew his .38 police-issued revolver and shot him once in the side of the head.

Police reported that Vernon was transported to the Punta Gorda Town Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

“A Lorcin brand .380 pistol was retrieved from the scene,” said the police report.

The Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, has since instructed that there be a joint criminal and internal investigation into this incident.

While police have begun their investigations, the Vernon family is already disputing the police’s accounts of the shooting incident. The victim’s aunt, Julet Vernon-Austin, posted to social media that her nephew’s death was an “execution.”

She claimed that he was shot in the back of the head and not in the side of the head, as the police report had claimed. Additionally, she claimed that he was unarmed, although the police report said they recovered his weapon from the crime scene.

Vernon-Austin further claimed that the officer who shot her nephew was intoxicated and was doing private duty at a Chinese store.

Furthermore, she alleged that the shooting incident had been the result of a personal dispute between her nephew and the officer in question.  The night before the shooting the officer had confronted the deceased, his aunt said.

Vernon-Austin commented that the deceased had written his father in the United States saying that he was fearful for his life after a police officer told him that he could no longer live in Punta Gorda.

According to the aunt, her slain nephew was killed in his neighbour’s yard, and the crime scene was tampered with.

“His body was then thrown into the back of a police truck after they had ascertained he was dead and we all know that the scene was supposed to be secured with his body on site. The ambulance/coroner never came. The crime scene was never secured with the body and the gunman was left to help sanitize the crime scene,” she wrote in her social media post.

She added, “The cell phone of the young lady who took the pictures of what had happened had her phone confiscated and all the videos and photos of the incident were deleted.”

In a press conference held in Belize City today, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Joseph Myvett said that police on patrol first saw Vernon with a firearm on George Price Street.

However, when Vernon saw the police, according to them, he walked away and so police drove on to Middle Main Street.

There, an officer exited the police vehicle but Vernon, while walking away, pointed a firearm at the officer, who then fired a single shot.

In response to the claims made by Vernon’s aunt, ACP Myvett, simply indicated that investigators were working on all leads.

“We are following all the information that was given to us,” he said.

ACP Myvett explained that the officer in question has been detained pending investigations. That officer has indicated that he was responding to a report that Vernon was pointing the firearm at another person.

According to ACP Myvett, Vernon had several run-ins with the law. He said, “I think there was a robbery case against him in Belize City, and I know that there were several incidents in Punta Gorda for which he came in contact with the police there.”

The incident is being investigated by Myvett and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Chester Williams.

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