By Marion Ali
Police constables, Leonard Nuñez and Hallet King find themselves at the Hattieville Prison, after they were remanded until July 14th on a joint charge of murder for the death of Hilberto Sotz.
The18-year-old student resident of Caye Caulker was in police custody at the time of his death. His passing raised the ire of island residents who took to the streets the same night to protest and demand swift justice.
The post mortem examination results on Wednesday, revealed that Sotz died of vascular shock, massive heart thrombosis, and acute post traumatic cerebral edema as a result of trauma to the head and body, confirming what residents suspected – that Sotz died after suffering some form of torture, rather than from natural breathing problems, as the accused men claimed.
In a show of zero-tolerance for the abuse of authority, the Belize Police Department issued an initial press statement, pledging that the Commissioner of Police would ensure a thorough investigation and take swift action where necessary.
On Wednesday, the Department announced that in addition to the measures taken against Nuñez and King, the Commissioner has also placed three other members of the Caye Caulker police formation, who were at the station at the time of Sotz’ death, on immediate interdiction.
They are Corporal Kirby Palma, WPC Bernadette Ramos, and PC Edilberto Patt.
The Commissioner has also assigned Inspector Dehanne Augustine as the new commander of the Caye Caulker Police Station, to be seconded by senior non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Norman Benguche. Other members of the department will also be deployed to replace those currently on interdiction.
The new measures follow loud demands by residents, who turned out in droves on Monday night to stage an impromptu riot that drifted from the police station, where the youth died, to the Caye Caulker Poly-clinic, where his body was taken afterwards.
The mob, which peaked at around 300, had to be controlled by police back-up, which arrived at around 8 p.m. Monday, followed by elements of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), who arrived later the same night.
By 11 p.m., amidst what residents describe as “live rounds” being fired, the crowd dispersed. In its only reference to this allegation, the police have denied the use of live rounds.
The initial police report of the circumstances leading to Sotz’ death states that based on “information gathered … on Monday June 8, 2015 at 11:50 a.m., 18-year-old Hilberto Sotz of Bahia Puesto Del Sol, Caye Caulker Village was detained at Caye Caulker Police Station pending investigation into a series of burglaries.
Sometime around 5:00 p.m., while being interviewed, he reportedly started complaining of chest pain and had difficulty breathing. He was rushed to the poly clinic for medical treatment where he passed away.”
Sotz was detained on Monday because he had, on previous occasions, been accused of committing bicycle thefts and burglaries with a group of other boys.
But on Sunday night when the latest burglary occurred, Sotz was not on the island. He arrived early Monday morning on a boat. Police nonetheless, took him into custody and detained him until the time of his death.
This is the third time detainees have died while in custody of the Caye Caulker police. The first death occurred about 11 years ago, when a man called “Pony”, got into a verbal exchange with the police and was shot in the back of the head. He collapsed and died while heading through the door.
The second incident involved Alpheus Parham. He was charged with murder for the shooting death of Alex Goff, who was detained for disorderly conduct at the Split on May 9th, 2010.
Goff, who was reportedly acting disorderly at the station, suffered a gunshot in the forehead that day.
Police reported that when Goff did not obey Parham’s orders to remain quiet, Parham returned to the cell and moments later, “a loud bang” rang out.
Parham then left the cell and placed a .38 revolver inside the diarist’s desk.
At the time, the officer claimed they were involved in a scuffle and the gun accidentally discharged, killing the detainee.