BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 6, 2021– On Sunday night, an off-duty Belize Defence Force soldier was killed in Santa Familia, Cayo District, during an altercation with a joint patrol of police and BDF soldiers that flared up in front of a store, Branch Mouth Stop and Shop, around 7:30 p.m.
Jesse Escobar, the deceased BDF soldier, got involved in what seems to have been a verbal exchange between members of the joint patrol team and a group of men, which escalated quickly and resulted in him being killed by one of his own fellow BDF soldiers. The altercation started after one of the men in the group was asked to wear a face mask properly. He had complied, according to police.
Surveillance footage shows an unarmed Escobar (who had what appeared to be a cup in his hand) and two other men approaching a police officer and BDF soldier. At that point the BDF soldier, identified as a Private R. Valencia, after some hard talk with Escobar and the other men, brandished his service M4 carbine, which he pointed at Escobar’s upper chest.
In the video, a person, believed to be the deceased, could be heard saying, “Nuh di push no [expletive] gun after me yo know.” Someone can be heard replying, “ I wa buss yo lee [expletive], yo know.” Subsequently, the first voice could be heard saying,”Come.”
At that point Escobar began to walk slowly toward the soldier and what happened next caused chaos to ensue, and the gun went off, hitting Escobar at point-blank range. Escobar collapsed immediately. His wife and young daughter who were on the scene looked at their loved one’s lifeless body on the ground for some seconds before realizing what had happened.
The child was taken away, and Escobar’s wife was seen crying over his body.
Surveillance footage of the incident shows that the police officer and the BDF soldier fired their weapons at the victim almost simultaneously, but while the police officer aimed his shots at the ground, the BDF soldier fired at point-blank range, aiming at the chest.
According to a report from a police officer on duty, Juan Morales, who claims that the deceased is his cousin, Escobar was attempting to disarm the BDF soldier — a claim not substantiated by the surveillance footage. (Surveillance footage of the incident in fact shows that one of Escobar’s hands was at his side and the other held a cup while he was walking toward Valencia and Morales.)
Valencia fired a single shot without any attempt being made on the part of the other members of the patrol to take his rifle. That shot caused the injury that ended Escobar’s life.
In an interview today, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams said that he does believe the BDF soldier used excessive force, but reiterated that the fatal shot was fired by the soldier, and not by the police officer on the scene.
It is to be noted that, in the surveillance footage, after Escobar fell to the ground, a voice believed to be the police officer could be heard saying ,”next boxah, next boxah.”
A statement submitted to police indicated that, when checks were done, Escobar was seen bleeding from the chest and mouth. The footage shows him in an unresponsive state on the ground.
A file containing the results of a police investigation is at this time being reviewed by the Director of Public Prosecution, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, who will recommend what charges are to be levied against the law enforcement personnel.
Police are awaiting her instructions.