BELIZE CITY, Fri. July 24, 2020– On Wednesday, July 22, 2020, at a peaceful protest held by stevedores and workers of the Port of Belize (POB) who were expressing their discontent over what they saw as acts of victimization by the Port of Belize, the police’s Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) entered the POB compound and fired rubber bullets at the protesters and threw tear gas at them.
Injured in the police attack were seven persons: Trevor Jones, Leon Jones, Galvin Ozman, Kenroy Gillett, Bruce Diaz, Elswin Willoughby and Kevin Sutherland. All seven persons were issued with medico-legal forms.
Willoughby and Gillett returned with their medico forms, and the doctor who examined them classified their injuries as harm.
The remaining five persons have not yet returned with their forms, which they must submit before giving their official statements to police.
This afternoon, a press brief, which was attended by CEO George Lovell, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, DCP Deseree Magdaleno and Sr. Supt. Dwayne Sutherland, Commander of the Professional Standards Branch, was held in the conference room of the Raccoon Street Police Station.
CEO Lovell told the nation that the initial investigation into the regrettable incident led to the identification of three high-ranking officers who are to be blamed for the unwarranted violence against the protestors: ACP Alden Dawson, Regional Commander, Belize District; Sr Supt. Daniel Arzu, Region 1 Commander; and ASP Edlin Lorenzo, Commander of the GSU.
All three officers have been put on administrative leave immediately, for an initial period of 5 days.
In the interim, Dawson has been replaced with ACP Dr. Richard Rosado, while Arzu has been replaced by Supt. Raymundo Reyes, his deputy; and ASP Lorenzo has been replaced with Supt. Roy Joseph.
Commissioner Williams said that before the 5-day admin leave has expired, a letter of suspension for 60 days for the men will be sent to CEO Lovell and the Services Commission for approval so that the officers are placed immediately thereafter on a 60-day suspension, after which disciplinary charges will be brought against them.
Commissioner Williams said that he gave directives to ACP Dawson, but Dawson did not ensure that the directives were sent down to Arzu, who was the Commander on the ground, which lead to the shooting, but at the same time, Williams said, Arzu had the responsibility to first consult with the Commissioner of Police before deploying the riot squad, which did not happen, and he was also on the ground during the chaos and did nothing to stop it.
Commissioner Williams said that although Lorenzo acted on orders from Arzu, he also should have also consulted with the Commissioner before the riot squad was deployed, and he should have ensured that the instructions given to him were lawful.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Magdaleno, the lead investigator into the incident, in presenting her initial findings to the nation, stated: “On Wednesday, Compol Williams gave ACP Alden Dawson specific instructions, that the protestors were to remain on the compound because they were protesting peacefully, and that they could remain as long as they continued to be peaceful.”
However, she said, Dawson failed to inform Arzu that the protestors were to remain on the compound to carry on their peaceful protest, so Arzu did not know that they were to remain on the compound.
Magdaleno said that the GSU were called upon to take over from the police officers in the compound so that they could have taken a snack break, but were given instructions not to bring riot equipment, and this was done.
Shortly after, Commander of the GSU, Edlin Lorenzo, came to the compound to see what was happening and saw that the protestors were still on the compound, protesting.
He asked the Ground Commander, Sr. Supt. Arzu, if the protesters had been spoken to, and at that point Arzu told him to remove the protesters.
Arzu then spoke to the protesters again, after which he told Lorenzo to engage with, and remove the protestors, which ended in the forceful removal of the protesters from the compound.
The GSU were brutal in their handling of the protesters, who were tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets.
Sr. Supt. Dwayne Sutherland, Commander, Professional Standards Branch (PSB), told the nation that seven protesters suffered varying degrees of injury and went to the Professional Standards Branch to make complaints.
Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, when he heard what had happened, was angry, and said that this was unwarranted force and should not have happened. He told the nation that a quick investigation would be carried out, and those who were responsible would be dealt with.
He said that he had told the commander on the ground that the protesters were protesting peacefully and that they could remain on the compound.
This is a democratic country, he said, and the protesters were free to protest, as long as they were peaceful.
Sr. Supt. Sutherland said that their findings also supported the perception that the force used to rid the compound of the protestors was unwarranted and unnecessary.
Commissioner Williams said that it is hoped that the appointment of Roy Joseph, a seasoned commander, will change the image of the GSU.
Commissioner Williams said that another update will be given to the nation when the initial 5-day administrative leave on which the three senior officers have been placed, expires.