National News: Mark King suspended over early morning casino altercation
Thursday, February 7th, 2013
An elected member in the Executive Arm of the National Assembly was disciplined by the Prime Minister of Belize Hon Dean Barrow after he was booted out by security officers at a Casino in the Corozal District for apparent unruly behavior. The incident occurred in the wee hours of Tuesday February 5th at the Princess Hotel and Casino outside of the Corozal Free Zone. The minister being singled out is Mark King, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation.
According to first official police report sent out on Tuesday February 5th it indicated that, at about 2:30AM on the given date, a uniformed police officer was on duty at the Princess Casino located at Santa Elena Northern Border. The officer was standing outside of the casino when he noticed that the security guard from the casino was escorting a male person out of the casino. That person was later identified to be 22 year old Diego Witz, a business man of Punta Gorda Town. According to the police, the security guards escorted a second male person out of the casino since he was “behaving disorderly.” While the name of the second person was not released by police, they indicated that Witz came back to where the second male person was being escorted out and attempted to hit one of the security guards. “The police then intervened and Diego Witz reportedly pushed and punched him (the Police) in the face. A struggle ensued where Diego Witz Jr. was subdued. He was cautioned of the offence committed of assaulting a police officer.”
In a second police report release on Wednesday February 6th gives a slightly different version of the original release. Police now say that when Witz Jr was detained and placed under arrest after he punched an officer on duty at the casino. The release added that “while waiting at the Police Booth for the police mobile, Mr. Mark King – Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, allegedly intervened to have Witz released. Witz Jr. was place on the pan of the police mobile and Minister Mark King reportedly got into the pan of the mobile where the Minister allegedly threatened and assaulted the police officer.”
Police had refused to release the name of the Minster even after multiple callers who witnessed the incident called into the morning shows in Belize City singling out Minister King and calling for the Prime Minster to address the issue. After meeting at the regular Tuesday Cabinet Meeting, PM Barrow released a statement in which he indicated that disciplinary actions would be taken against the junior minister. The press release indicated that Cabinet was briefed on the incident “and it was reported that the Hon. Mark King was involved in behavior not consistent with his obligations as a Minister of State.” The release went on to say that “Cabinet has been informed that the police, in consequence of their preliminary review of the facts, will be laying charges of disorderly conduct and threatening words on Hon. Mark King. Those charges will be dealt with in the court. However, the Prime Minister at this point is satisfied that Honorable King’s involvement in the incident constituted, at the very least, unbecoming conduct. Accordingly, the Prime Minister, after speaking with Hon. Mark King has decided on an immediate three month suspension without pay from his duties as a Minister of State.” It ended by indicating that PM Barrow and the Cabinet were expecting a statement of apology from King to his constituency, colleagues, and the country.
And before the end of the day, King issued a statement as outlined and expected by the PM and his Cabinet. King’s release stated that “by now you would have learnt through the media that I was involved in an incident while socializing at the Princess Hotel and Casino in Corozal, which resulted in a breach of the peace and the imposition of charges against me by the Police. While I make no admission of wrong-doing and will take all necessary steps to be properly represented at the trial of those charges, I want you all to know that I am very sorry and deeply regret that this incident occurred. I apologize to you, the Belizean people, members of my constituency and to all my Cabinet colleagues for this unfortunate incident.”
This is not the first time that PM Barrow has disciplined a member of his Cabinet. In his first term as Prime Minister, back in March 2009 – one year after being elected, the then Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation Juan Coy was suspended for six months from the Cabinet. His suspension was because the elected member of the National Assembly had intervened for the release of one of his constituency members who had been caught with a large amount of contraband Guatemalan beers and soft drinks.
Witz has been charged at the Corozal Magistrate Court with “assaulting a police officer”, while 38 year old Mark King, was charged for “Aggravated Assault,” “Threatening Words” and “Disorderly Conduct”.