Victims of alleged police brutality in San Pedro call for justice

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Vianie Perez the night of the incident

Two San Pedro men and one female, along with their families and the wider community of San Pedro Town are asking for “justice” into what they call blatant “brutality” and use of “unnecessary” force by police officers attached to the San Pedro Police Formation. The officers in question include are a woman police constable (WPC) and a corporal of police who were off duty, out of uniform and drinking minutes prior to incident. The altercation erupted in the wee hours of Monday, December 17th in front many witnesses, some of whom captured the chilling clash on their personal cellular phones.

According to the official police report, a man was detained by officers who were “socializing” at a local downtown bar, the Tackle Box Bar, sometime around 12:40AM on Monday. Ricky Jurado, a life-long resident of San Pedro was detained that night and ended up spending hours behind bars at the San Pedro Police Station. Eventually charged for assaulting a police officer, Jurado told the press that as he was coming out of the bathroom inside the establishment when he saw a male dancing in a seductive manner behind his girlfriend. Jurado went on to explain that his girlfriend was unaware of what the male person was doing behind her and that it was only after the “dark-skinned male” proceeded to grab her from behind the waist did she realize what he was doing. “I confronted him and asked him what is happening with you

Ricky Jurado

(the male). From there, they (the male) eventually walked out. I told all my friends let’s just go so when we came out of the bar, they (the police) were waiting in the middle of the bridge (dock) and they started the altercation. That is when Mr. Young (Police Corporal), both seemed to be under the influence of alcohol, took out his gun, grabbed my neck and put his gun in my mouth,” said Jurado adding that “he threatened me that he would kill me if I even move. The female officer that was involved said ‘shoot that Spanish’.” It was not until then Jurado said, that he learned that the male person was in-fact a Police Corporal and one of the two females was WPC Young. According to Jurado, he then put up his hands indicating that he was total submission to the police. “My fiancé said ‘officer why are you doing this’ and that is when the other officer, the female (WPC Young) assaulted her – it was two of them. I tried to move from the officer and he chocked me and I almost passed out. When he saw I was falling, that is when he moved his hands from around me and then put the gun to my head. He then walked me off the dock, with the gun to my head, all the way to where I was put into a police car,” recollected Jurado who was taken to the police station until late the next afternoon. The officers in question were later confirmed to be Corporal Mark Young and WPC Sherifa Young.

WPC Sherifa Young

The incident was witnessed by several island residents who condemned the attitude and behavior of the police officers and shared in detail how the incident unfolded.  “We were at Tackle Box and I was by the door. This lady (WPC Young), she was drunk and she starting harassing my buddies that was leaving. The officer put a gun to the guy’s head which started an argument and people started talking up… They took the guy out to the street and one of my buddies was trying to ensure that nothing bad happened and followed them with his hands up indicating that he is not giving trouble,” said a male witness.

According to several reports by eyewitness, Jurado was being walked by Corporal Young on Barrier Reef Drive with a gun placed to his head in the direction towards Central Park. At that point, one of his friends with whom he was socializing minutes before the incident inside the bar, Elder Mauricio, began taking pictures of the scene while his girlfriend Vianie Perez inquired as to the reasons why Jurado was being treated in such manner. In the process of doing so, witnesses say that both Mauricio and Perez were approached by one of the females, later learned to be WPC Young who first charged at Mauricio hitting him several times with a baton and later at Perez seriously injuring her. “My boyfriend was taking pictures of police walking my friend with a gun to his head. When they noticed that he was taking pictures they went after him. He then tried to give me the camera and one of the females

(WPC Young) hit me in my head,” said Perez who claims that as a defense reaction, she charged back at the female eventually falling to the ground.  According to Perez, when she was on the ground she was hit multiple times with a baton. According to a female US expatriate who saw the entire incident, police hit Mauricio several times while being totally submissive. “I saw the man was against the wall with his hands in the air and a big black woman was beating him with a stick in the face and on the body. I went to look for my camera to video it but by the time I got the camera going and I looked up his girlfriend was totally bloody,” volunteered a female witness.

As a result of the beating, Perez received a large cut to the left side of her head, another to the right side of her head, an injury to the forehead, a swollen left eye and several bruises to various parts of her body. According to witnesses, both Mauricio and Perez were then left on the street severely bleeding and in pain but were later rushed for medical attention by bystanders in the area.

According to Perez, what makes matters even worse is that when she went to hand in a medical form and complete a police report along with her boyfriend at the San Pedro Police Station later the following morning, they were informed that WPC Young had made a report against them and  were placed under arrested. Perez was eventually charged for assaulting a police officer, obstructing a police officer and wounding a police officer; Mauricio was charged with obstructing a police officer and using insulting words against an officer while Jurado was only charged for assaulting a police officer. The trio were taken to the San Pedro Magistrate Court before Magistrate Sherigne Rodriguez where they all pleaded not guilty to the charges and were offered bail which they were able to meet. Their cases were adjourned until February 13th. Magistrate Rodriguez noted however, the visible injuries to the face and head of Perez and asked if she wished to state something regarding the injuries at which point Perez explained the injuries were inflicted by officers including WPC Young who was the formal complainant in the given case.

According to the second in command at the San Pedro Police Station Inspector of Police Reynaldo Pook, the two officers in question are Corporal Mark Young who is attached to the Quick Response Team (QRT) and WPC Sherifa Young who were both in the company of a third person, a female identified only as one Belisle. Pook confirmed that both police officers were off duty and had indeed been drinking at the Tackle Box prior to the incident. When questioned by the press as to why the two officers, while drinking, tried to conduct an arrest and what their motives for the arrest were, Pook would only say that the matter was still being investigated.

Like Perez and Jurado who are demanding that the relevant authorities address the incident in which they strongly believe police acted “out of the line of duty” and “brutalized” them, so are other island residents. “I think they (authorities) need to identify the officers involved and they need to be punished in some way. They can’t be doing this to citizens for no reason. Somebody has to be punished for this. It is just unjust and it is not right, to show force like that is not right,” said one of the many outraged witnesses.

Meanwhile, Perez, Mauricio and Jurado are in the process of filing reports to the Belize Police Internal Affairs Department and the office of the Ombudsman for them to conduct a report and bring disciplinary action against the police officers involved. Inspector Pook said however that based on a report that was filed by Perez and a witness, the San Pedro Police have initiated a local and internal investigation to determine if they were any wrong doings by the two officers named by the witnesses and the complainant. Pook said that he is conducting the investigation and if indeed any wrong doing is being found, the police department will proceed with disciplinary actions. Pook confirmed however that both WPC Young and Corporal Young remain on active duty.

The Police Department has indicated that a team of investigators from the Professional Standard Branch were dispatched to San Pedro to investigate the matter. It also indicated that in an effort to conduct the investigation the two officers involved in the investigation were put on leave effective Wednesday, December 18th.

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