A video of the beat-down of a man, unconscious on the ground, showed an officer repeatedly kicking him “like a football;” another officer was wielding a baton with savage abandon on the victim’s brother. One of the officers pulled out his police-issued handgun threateningly at the crowd of onlookers.
BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 7, 2019– On New Year’s night, someone videoed two police constables on San Pedro behaving with cruel, wanton disregard toward two civilians—savagely violating their constitutional and human rights in the presence of a crowd of spectators.
The video immediately went viral in social media—creating a massive public outcry. After putting the two officers on a one-week suspension, the Belize Police Department promised that they would carry out a criminal as well as an internal investigation into the matter.
With the powerful video evidence, the police could have laid criminal charges immediately against PC Samir Medina and PC Tyrell Rowley, the two abusive officers, who were seen repeatedly kicking one of the men, who were already in handcuffs and lying on the ground, and were posing no threat at all to the officers.
The men were also beaten with batons.
The video also showed a civilian kicking one of the men on the ground while the police stood there and did nothing. The civilian was later identified as a bartender from Playa Bar and Grill, where the incident with the three Leal brothers first began.
Jamir Leal, 20, the victim, was knocked unconscious and when he regained consciousness, he was in the police holding cell. Jamir had gone to the club along with his two brothers, Justin Leal, 21, and Mario Leal, 23.
Now one week later, incredibly, in view of the savage beating of the men, Acting Commissioner of Police Chester Williams told the media today at the weekly police press briefing that the department is unable to charge the officers criminally because the victims are not cooperating with the police’s Professional Standards Branch.
ACP Williams said that Medina and Rowley have been placed on interdiction and have been charged internally with prejudice to good order and conduct, and for allowing a civilian to beat a person in their custody.
We were able to source legal advice on the matter, and we were told that the video evidence is enough for the police to have filed several criminal charges against the two rogue officers. For the charges to stick, all that would have been required was minimal cooperation from the victims of the brutality or from a few of the witnesses present.
It is hard to believe that in the presence of so many people, one or two would not willingly go to court to testify to what they had witnessed.
It appears that the Police Department is lacking the prosecutorial will to charge the officers criminally. That is not exactly something new.
In February 2018, eight law enforcement officers, seven BDF soldiers from a group known as Belize Special Assignment Group (BSAG) and one policeman severely beat-down two Orange Walk men, in Orange Walk Town, resulting in the death of one of them.
The beat-down occurred over a cell phone which belonged to a young woman. The lawmen all had their faces covered with masks.
The Director of Public Prosecutions instructed that all eight of them be charged for murder and attempted murder. They were charged and remanded to prison for the murder of Ariel Audinette, 48, and the attempted murder of Oscar Payes.
When the matter came up for a preliminary inquiry in September, however, the presiding magistrate released all eight lawmen after submissions from the men’s attorneys about a prosecution case file that was not quite ready.
Under the new Criminal Procedure Rules, cases must be disposed of within two years from the date of arraignment. In this particular case, it is just approaching one year, so there was still time for the prosecution to get its evidence and files so that the charges can be reinstituted.
There was an outcry about the case, and the public was told by police authorities that they are awaiting further instructions from the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is in possession of the case file. So far, however, none of the officers involved in that case has been re-arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder.
There are other cases where police brutality has led to the death of civilians who were in their custody, and those matters were swept under the proverbial rug.
Is it any wonder why the public is distrustful of police officers investigating themselves?
In the case of this New Year’s night San Pedro savagery, the two officers may escape punishment for their horrible, unprofessional, criminal behavior.
What happened on San Pedro on New Year’s night has been happening with frightening frequency in Belize, and nothing has really been done to arrest the problem of police violence against civilians.