CAYE CAULKER, Thurs. June 11, 2015–An autopsy conducted on the body of Hilbert “Ketchi” Sotz, 18, a 2nd form student of Belmopan Baptist High School who died in the custody of Caye Caulker police on Monday of this week, determined that he did not die of natural causes, as police had originally indicated, but was instead beaten to death inside the police station on that island.
The two officers who are believed to be responsible for his murder were remanded to prison yesterday, Wednesday, and three others who were present at the time of the incident have been placed on interdiction pending the outcome of the case for being “slovenly inactive” during the entire incident.
Though swift and practically unprecedented, those actions are no compensation to either the Sotz family or to Sotz’s close friend, Manuel Guerra, who, we understand, watched helplessly as Sotz was allegedly beaten and tortured at the hands of two officers who were attached to the Caye Caulker Police Formation.
Amandala visited “La Isla Carinosa” late yesterday evening and conducted an extensive interview with Guerra shortly after he was released from police lockdown, where he and the deceased were being held pending investigation into a burglary that recently took place on the island.
Guerra told us that his birthday was that same day, Monday, and therefore, Sotz went to Caye Caulker to spend the day with him when he met an unwarranted death.
He said, “I was arrested 6:15 Monday morning. I was taken to the police station, put to kneel down and beaten badly by two officers. At around midday, the police brought in my friend, and I noticed that the same two officers were roughing him up. They took him to CIB office [on Caye Caulker] where they beat him for 20 minutes and then brought him in the cell and locked him up with me.”
By then, Sotz’s father, Santorino, had gone to the station to check on his son, but according to Guerra, the officers refused to let him see Hilbert, who Guerra conceded, was slightly inebriated.
Guerra indicated that it was at that time that one of the two officers warned Mr. Sotz that his son would eventually be killed by the police.
That reportedly took place in the presence of a few of Mr. Sotz’s friends, and Mr. Sotz, as well as one of his friends, corroborated that account to Amandala when we were on the island last night.
“I was trying to tell them that Hilbert did not know anything about the burglary because he was at school in Belmopan when it happened, but they didn’t listen to me. Later in the evening, at about 3:30, they [the two officers] took us out of the cell and put us in CIB office in the station, where they beat us again, but this time, they pepper-sprayed us in the face, tasered us, wet us up with water, and tortured us by constantly shocking us with a live wire, and then knocked us out,” Guerra recounted.
A visibly traumatized Guerra said that when he revived, he was handcuffed to a chair in the CIB office and noticed that the officers were pepper-spraying Sotz in the face again, after which they put a plastic bag over his head and taped his mouth before he was again beaten relentlessly.
“I told the officers not to hurt him, but they continued and beat him so bad that he couldn’t handle it. For 20 minutes, he was bawling, ‘stop, stop’. I wanted to do something, but I couldn’t. I knew that they killed him, and from the way [he looked when] they took him out of the CIB office where I was and put him on the golf cart to be transported to the polyclinic, I knew he was dead,” Guerra stated.
“There was a next officer behind the table [in the office] that did not do anything at all. I then started yelling that he was dead and that they were the ones who killed him, so they started to beat me again, and then they put a gun in my face and told me that if I said anything [about what happened], they will kill me, but I continued to make noise. They [later] took me back to the cell and when my mom came to see me, that’s when I learned that he [Hilbert] was dead [indeed]. I cried for 3 hours because I saw what happened – Hilbert was slaughtered right there, not in the golf cart or the clinic; right there in the CIB office, and I was the only one that saw, but couldn’t do anything”, Guerra lamented.
Guerra, who was overcome with emotion while describing the horrible episode, explained that the severe beating has left him with varying degrees of injuries all over his body, including multiple bruises and swollen ribs. Also, he is unable to eat anything solid, and his nose was almost broken. His throat is also badly swollen, and at this time, he is only able to consume soup.
Guerra was released from police custody at around 5:00 p.m. yesterday, Wednesday, after spending three days in lockdown.
“They didn’t say anything or tell me the reason why I was being released; they just gave me my properties and told me that I could go”, he said.
Guerra told us that he later found out that he was released because the culprits who actually committed the burglary in question were eventually apprehended and all the stolen items were recovered.
“They found the guys that did it, and recovered all the [stolen] items, so they detained us for nothing”, he explained in a distraught manner.
Guerra and Sotz were close friends for many years and he described the incident as “a big loss,” since they were “like brothers.”
When they first got the news that Sotz died in police custody, a crowd of irritated Caye Caulker residents – some of whom told us that they are simply fed up with incessant police abuse on the island village – took to the streets later that evening and initiated an informal protest which almost evolved into a riot when tensions ran high, especially after the deployment of a squad of Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) officers who employed what some protesters described as “heavy-handed tactics,” including gunfire, to eventually disperse the crowd.
Late yesterday evening, Wednesday, the Police Press Office issued a release which stated that a post-mortem examination revealed that Sotz’s cause of death was “vascular shock, pronounced massive heart thrombosis, and acute post traumatic cerebral edema as a result of trauma to the head and body”, which basically means that he was hit in the chest hard enough to cause intense bruising damage to his heart, and he also suffered blows to the head, which caused bleeding in his brain.
The two officers who were implicated in his death, namely PC #628 Leonard Nunez and PC #819 Hallet King, both residents of Caye Caulker, were arraigned before Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith in the Belize City Magistrate’s Court, where they were read a single charge of murder and later remanded to the Belize Central Prison until July 14, 2015.
Nunez and King have been placed on interdiction along with Corporal Kirby Palma, WPC #1107 Bernadette Ramos, and PC #1932 Edilberto Patt, who were all on duty at the station when the incident occurred, according to the police press release.
The release added that Inspector Dehanne Augustine will now take command of the Caye Caulker Police Station, and that she will be supported by Sergeant Norman Benguche, who is described as a senior Non-Commissioned Officer.