Steven Buckley, 38, a construction worker by profession, is currently on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) in Belize City, stable but with a fifty-fifty chance of survival after being shot in his face by police around 9:00 Wednesday night.
Buckley and Alfonso Juarez, 23, had accompanied Buckley’s employer and neighbor, Marlon Myers, 34, to their work site on Guerrero Street to pick up tools and equipment left behind in advance of the Labour Day weekend.
Buckley and Myers work for Minister Michael Finnegan’s Ministry of Housing (Hon. Finnegan is also area representative for Mesopotamia, where all three live).
On Kraal Road between Baracat Street and Ross Pen Road in Port Loyola behind the Wilton Cumberbatch Field, the three men were suddenly confronted by a gold Isuzu DMax pickup carrying five police officers: three in the all-black uniform of the Anti-Drug Unit (ADU), one in camouflage clothing and the last in plain clothes.
Amandala spoke by telephone this afternoon with Juarez, who told us that he accompanied Buckley and Myers, a former semipro basketball star with teams like the championship Kremandala Raiders, to the work site in a green Dodge Ram pickup at about 8:15 p.m., after first making a stop at a Chinese shop on Amara Avenue.
After picking up the tools, they started back.
Myers, who was driving, told us this evening that as he made a left turn onto the unpaved section of Kraal Road off Caesar Ridge Road, the DMax, driving behind them, stopped in the middle of the road and one of the officers shouted for the trio to get out, as they turned their high beams on.
Myers said he started to get out of the driver’s side door, but before he could exit the vehicle completely, one of the ADU officers opened fire with what appeared to be a 12-gauge pump action shotgun, firing twice through the windshield of the Dodge Ram. He has been identified to Amandala as an Inspector from Belmopan.
Both shots caught Buckley, sitting next to Myers in the front passenger seat, in the right side of his face. Neither Myers nor Juarez was hit, but Juarez says he sustained some cuts from the broken glass in his face, and Myers was likewise injured.
As Myers exited his damaged vehicle and the police told him to get down to the ground, Buckley started shouting in Myers’ direction: “(Expletive), boy, Marlon, I get shot ina mi head!”
Incredulous, Myers said he told him to “stop talk (expletive),” but Juarez, seated behind Buckley but to his left, reached to Buckley’s face to touch it, then withdrew his hand, which was covered with blood, he told us.
The police rubbed Myers down and found nothing on him.
Buckley kept trying to get the officers’ attention concerning his injuries, and Juarez then exited the vehicle through the open driver’s side door as the police approached. He began telling them that his friend had been shot, and that they should take him to the hospital.
All the officers said in reply, he told us, was: “Calm down.”
As Juarez went around to help Buckley, the police reportedly ordered the injured man out of the vehicle to get him to the hospital. Our eyewitness said he helped Buckley out of the vehicle and started to walk him over to the mobile, but the police intervened and one of the officers assisted Buckley into the back of the pickup and three officers drove off with him.
The remaining officers and CIB personnel who had been summoned (we understand the head of CIB, Julio Valdez, was present on the scene), took statements from Myers and Juarez, and then took them and the damaged Dodge Ram to the Queen Street Police Station for further statement-taking.
We are told Buckley was rushed into surgery early today, and that doctors removed sixteen pellets from the right side of his face.
The police who were on the scene told Juarez and Myers that they would not face any charges.
But both Myers and Juarez informed us that they intend to file a complaint with Internal Affairs about last night’s craziness.
Said Juarez: “It was really uncalled for; police are trained, they should know that you don’t fire a warning shot at a vehicle, it’s totally inappropriate police behavior. We were not trying to run away, we stopped just as they told us…they had no reason to fire on us. We were not given time to get out of the vehicle before they opened fire…it’s a misuse of force and it makes no sense.”
He added that the police never informed them of why they should stop, which Myers confirmed when we spoke with him today.
Myers also told us that, “I am not a thief. I work hard. Even if they only wanted us to stop, why shoot after we stopped, and why shoot my friend instead of me, since I was the one who got out?… One of the police asked me how much the windshield was worth. I am not even worried about the truck or about the tools, all I hope for is that my friend gets better.”
Amandala is informed that the officer who fired the shot may have been under the influence of alcohol, and possibly the others. All five officers were carrying firearms. In addition to the shotgun, there were several 9mm pistols and what appeared to be a sub-machine gun among the officers’ arsenal.
According to a police report issued late tonight, Thursday, “The driver and the victim went down, as to pick up something from the floor, where the police pointed a shotgun in the direction of the Dodge Ram pickup [and] cranked it, after which it went off, penetrating the windshield and injuring Buckley.”
Information reaching Amandala suggests that police may have mistaken the vehicle for a similar one involved in a shooting elsewhere in Belize City on Wednesday night.
Police have yet to release anything official about the incident, and we are told that investigations are underway. They are yet to speak to Steven Buckley’s wife, Juanita, who has been with her husband at the KHMH since last night. Buckley is a father of two sons, ages 8 and 6, and neither he nor his companions have any criminal record.