BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 7, 2021– The Commissioner of Police has ordered an official investigation into what appears to be a suicide by a mental patient in police custody at the Queen Street Police Station. The deceased, Gregory Bowen, 38, was taken into custody over the weekend and was found dead in the cell block on Monday, January 4 — after reportedly using his pants to hang himself.
The police, in a press release issued on Monday, asserted they were unaware that Bowen was mentally unstable, but Bowen’s family disputes the claim and have retained attorney- at-law Orson Elrington.
In reference to whether the required procedures were followed during ‘lock-up’ at the station, Williams explained, “we have checked the diary at the station, and it shows that the officers did make the hourly checks at the cell blocks.”
“We do have our cell block policies that speak to the fact that officers must make hourly checks on the prisoners. In situations where the prisoner is under the influence or demonstrates the potential for harming him or herself, then checks must be made every half an hour. In this case Mr. Bowen was not drunk and was not one who displayed signs of wanting to injure himself and others, and so the checks were made hourly,” he further said.
Bowen’s body was found sometime after 2:00 a.m. It appears he had removed his pants, tied it onto a cell bar and applied pressure, thus hanging himself. Commissioner Williams informed, “sometime after two (2:00 a.m.), they (police) made checks on a prisoner, Gregorio Bowen, who was detained pending charges of wounding. Upon doing so, he was found nude in the cell block, hanging from his pants. So apparently he took off his pants that he was wearing and hung himself on the gate of the cell block”.
Bowen’s body was removed and taken to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. Commissioner Williams says that two separate investigations are underway. “I have tasked the Professional Standards Branch as well as the Officer commanding Eastern Division to launch an investigation to see if there was any negligence on the part of the officers working at the particular moment,” he stated.
Catherine Bowen, sister of the deceased, told one member of the media that the police are well aware of Gregory’s mental condition because on previous occasions they were called to the family’s residence to restrain him and take him to the hospital to get his medication administered.
Orson Elrington, attorney for the Bowen family, says “in this case the facts before us is that it was widely known, especially by the Belize Police Department, that Mr. Bowen was a mental patient, and therefore there was an elevated duty of care which they had to ensure his safety.
“And regrettably, their breach of that duty of care resulted in the death of Mr. Bowen…. There needs to be monetary compensation; that goes without saying.”
The family intends to sue the Belize Police Department, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Government of Belize.