A routine aggravated burglary report for a patrol team from Dangriga police on Thursday night apparently led to a violent confrontation that ended in four persons being injured by gunshots and facing a multitude of charges.
Police were in the area of Steadfast village at about 7:25 p.m., around Mile 25 on the Hummingbird Highway. The team was returning to the station when around Mile 15 1/2 they came across a black Toyota pickup truck with Stann Creek license plates C-10402 parked in the middle of the highway. Police say the vehicle suddenly took off toward a nearby road and, upon observing reckless driving, they followed.
When the pickup came to a stop, apparently inside the compound of the residence of the Castellanos family, the officers searched the vehicle. The driver, identified as Erasmo Castellanos, was drinking a Belikin beer; and police also recovered a bottle of bitters and $2,135 cash — BZ$2,045 and US$45.
When the officers informed Castellanos of his arrest for reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol, another man who was in the group got up and shouted that no one would arrest Erasmo, his brother, or “they would have to deal with the entire family.”
Erasmo Castellanos himself defied the police, saying that “nobody will arrest [him] tonight” or they would have to kill his entire family and then he would have to kill them.
Police say a search of Erasmo’s room in the residence turned up nothing incriminating, but by this time other members of the family arrived and began behaving aggressively, refusing to allow them to take Erasmo in and blocking them from their vehicle.
Things escalated when the first brother, armed with a machete, advanced toward a police constable while holding the weapon over his head, and refusing to stop when ordered, say Police. The officer drew his service pistol and fired twice, injuring the brother and causing him to drop the machete.
The other 18 family members, most of whom had bottles, began advancing on the officers, shouting in angry protest about the shooting of their relative. One of those individuals grabbed an officer around his neck and tried to take away his holstered service revolver; they began to struggle, causing damage to the officer’s uniform shirt and the loss of his flashlight.
Meanwhile, yet another officer was likewise grabbed and held by a machete-wielding family member.
The officer who had previously fired, seeing the danger to his fellow officers and again being subject to aggression, fired twice more at the aggressors, causing them to step back and retreat. The police returned to Dangriga with one of the machetes and the money after the family refused their offer to take the injured persons to the hospital. None of the officers were reported to have sustained any injuries.
When the dust had settled, Erasmo Castellanos, 30, was shot below the right knee; Isidoro Castellanos, 32, was shot in the lower abdomen (he was the first brother to defend Erasmo); Lucero Castellanos, 24, was shot in the right leg; and Roberto Neal, 26, was shot in the left knee. Erasmo, Lucero Castellanos and Roberto Neal were treated at the Southern Regional Hospital; while Isidoro Castellanos was treated at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH).
Police have charged Neal with aggravated assault (2 counts) and obstruction; Erasmo Castellanos with aggravated assault (3 counts), use of obscene language, reckless driving, resisting arrest and obstruction; and Lucero Castellanos with aggravated assault (2 counts), assaulting a police officer (2 counts), damage to property, use of obscene language and obstruction.
The Castellanos family told KREM News a differing story on Friday. They said that they were socializing at their home at Mile 14, Hummingbird Highway, when the police arrived.
According to police, it was the family who behaved aggressively toward them, but the family claims that it was the police who behaved aggressively towards them.
They said the officers refused to listen to their explanation that the money was being held for someone and was not ill-gotten, and one of the officers was particularly aggressive, threatening to shoot one of the men if he did not get out of the way.
According to the family, one of the brothers was previously assaulted by police officers and they got no justice; now the rest of the family is being targeted.