General — 13 November 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks
Police balk at charging UDP for shooting in public

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov 11, 2015–On election night, November 4, when the results of the Belmopan constituency race between the United Democratic Party (UDP) incumbent John Saldivar and his People’s United Party challenger Jason Andrews were announced, supporters of Saldivar, who had won back his seat and was reappointed Minister of National Security on Monday, were ecstatic, so much so that one man fired his licensed firearm into the air—committing the offense of “discharging a firearm in public,” contrary to the Firearms Act.

Almost immediately, Belmopan police moved in to take the individual suspected of firing the gun into custody. As the incident began to unfold, someone began to capture it on a video camera, and the recording has gone viral on social media.

The video does not show the man firing his handgun into the air; however, police on the scene had someone they suspected had fired the gun.
The video shows police officers holding the alleged culprit, but above the noise of his euphoric supporters, a voice, allegedly that of Saldivar, is heard instructing the police officers to, “back off, back off now,” as the man is pulled away from police and pushed forward, disappearing into the sea of red T-shirts.

Today, Wednesday, makes one week since the incident, but Belmopan police have not yet made an arrest nor leveled a charge. Instead, the police have offered what amounts to an implausible explanation for their failure to uphold the law.

The incident, although it has been widely discussed in the public sphere, was never reported in the police’s situation report (SITREP press release.)

Amandala spoke today with the officer in charge of the Belmopan Police Station, Superintendent Howell Gillett, who told us that no one has been charged for the incident. We asked Gillett why the police have not brought a charge against the individual, when if it was anyone else, that individual would have immediately been arrested.

Gillett told us that the matter is still under police investigation and that the person (whose name we have, but cannot publish because he has not been charged by police) has been warned that a recommendation was made to the Commissioner of Police to strip him of his gun license.

Gillett also confirmed that police have the person’s gun and that it has been sent to the forensic lab to determine if it has been fired recently.

And even if the lab were to conclude that the weapon was fired recently, the lab would not be able to say who fired it, unless that person was detained and his hand swabbed for residue of gunpowder. That has not happened in this case.

Amandala asked Gillett if the police would take a statement from the Minister of Police, John Saldivar. Gillett did not give us a direct answer, but only said that police would interview anyone who they think could assist them.

No statement or interview has been taken from Hon. Saldivar, however.

It now appears, one week after the incident, that Belmopan police are powerless to make an arrest, especially after Prime Minister Dean Barrow weighed in on the matter on Monday at his press conference, saying: “It is clear from what I saw that [Saldivar] did speak to the police. But to go from there to an assertion that he directed them not to arrest the gentleman is a bit of a stretch. I was satisfied with the explanation that he gave me, that this was while clearly something that was wrong and in fact illegal for this person to fire a shot or shots in the air in celebration,” Barrow said.

Today, Gillett told Channel 5 and Plus TV, “Because of the size of the crowd—I don’t have an exact estimate of the crowd—but because of the size of the crowd, I don’t think it was the most prudent thing to arrest the person there and then.

Gillett added that the person was subsequently brought into the station, the allegation was told to him — that a shot had been fired from his licensed weapon; they have confirmed that he has a licensed weapon; and they have retrieved the weapon.

The investigation is not closed as yet, Gillett said, adding that he had personally interviewed the officers who were nearby and none of the statements that they have attained so far, could safely confirm that this individual was the person who pulled the trigger.

The problem is that had the person been arrested for firing his gun in public, even if it was licensed, he or she normally would have immediately been taken to prison, because that is the procedure by law for persons who commit firearm offences.

When, however, such a person appears to be under the protection of the party in power, the police hesitate to do their duty, because they know that such person cannot be treated as a normal citizen would, who does not enjoy such political protection.

For such a citizen, there would have been no foot-dragging by police.

Under the Amendment to the Firearms Act, persons who are charged under the act is automatically remanded to prison for up to 90 days, unless they can afford an attorney to make a bail application at the Supreme Court, after 10 working days, or if the Director of Public Prosecution waves the 10 working days remand to allow the bail application to be expedited.

For the discharging of a firearm in public, bail cannot be granted at the Magistrate’s Court level.

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