Tenants feel violated after GSU raid
Saturday, November 5th, 2016
A raid conducted by the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) officers stationed in San Pedro caused renters in the DFC area to feel violated. Initial reports are that due to the surge in recent shootings, the San Pedro Police Department (SPPD) requested for the GSU to assist them in conducting patrols. A few citizens are now claiming that they were indiscriminately searched without a warrant on Tuesday, November 1st, and they formally made their report to the San Pedro Police Station.
According to acting Officer in Charge of the Coastal Executive Unit, Assistant Superintendent, Henry Jemmott, 10 GSU officers allegedly raided a home in the DFC area, claiming that they acted on special intelligence received. Jemmott indicated that police do not necessarily need a warrant in this case, but however, the GSU searched the premise without the directive of the SPPD. In the end, a total of four rooms, and two board houses in the backyard were searched.
Three eyewitnesses saw the GSU ransacking a tenant’s room, with one of them describing the experience as ‘inhumane’. “It was painful to see the GSU searching my neighbor’s room because her room looked as if a tornado hit it. She was not home, she was at work when they stormed in the house and started searching. GSU know no boundaries, and I saw the officers blatantly criticizing her room because she hung her underwear inside her room, and a female GSU officer was shaming her because of the scent that circulated from the dirty laundry basket as a result of all the windows closed. After that, the GSU ripped up her poster, threw all of her clothes everywhere, carelessly flung all of her important documents in the air, while dumping everything else she had packed all over the place,” said the eyewitness.
After a late night of work, the victim finally went home to observe the state of her room. She indicated that she has never felt so violated and belittled in her life. She now claims that the GSU broke her constitutional rights to: Protection from arbitrary search or entry, and Protection to Privacy. Under the Constitution of Belize, Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize, Part II- Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, 9 –(I) states that “Except with his own consent, a person shall not be subjected to the search of his person or his property or the entry by others on his premises. Under the same chapter, 14-(l) states that “a person shall not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation. The private and family life, the home and the personal correspondence of every person shall be respected.”
Another tenant says that GSU needs to improve their measures when conducting these types of searches. “How many innocent lives has the GSU not claimed or affected here in Belize? I have no problem with them conducting searches, but San Pedro is not like the mainland where a house consists of one family. The majority of the working population here either rent rooms or apartments, and they need to be aware of that. What the GSU did to my neighbor was very immature, and they need to be more professional. I don’t think it is that difficult to conduct a clean search. If you move something, put it back-it is as simple as that! My neighbor has health complications, and she had a long day of work to only come home to cry. It took her more than three hours to clean up her room,” she said.
The tenants are not only complaining about the search, but are furious that their rooms/houses were left wide open. Some stated that they were lucky to know their neighbors, as otherwise, random thieves could have entered their rooms and walked out with their personal belongings.
One of the victims, a local tour operator, had initially been told by his girlfriend that their home was burglarized. He later found out that in fact, the GSU broke open their lock and raided their home. “Due to the crime that is occurring on the island, we are expecting to get help from the police, and they brought in the GSU here. However, the majority of the time, GSU is only terrorizing innocent people. I was at work when they raided my home, and left it wide open. I’m thankful to know that at least my valuables were not stolen,” he said.
Jemmott is disappointed about the incident, and apologizes to the tenants who made the report. He also stated that after the search, the GSU did not discover any drugs or firearms on the premise. He said that the GSU were wrong in this case because they were told not to break down doors, or break open locks. “I told the GSU to not break open any locks, and the bad part is that I could not have reprimanded them because they traveled back to Belize after the search. When the tenants came and gave the report, I called the officer who is in charge of this GSU team and informed them that they cannot be carrying out these types of action. On top of everything, all they did was vandalize these peoples’ rooms; they did not even find anything illegal,” said Jemmott.
In addition, Jemmott stated that he is not fond of these kinds of complaints because the SPPD deals with issues upfront and the legal way. He said that the SPPD will ensure the island is a tranquil place for residents and tourist alike, and will be effective in combating crime. In the meantime, a few of the tenants are seeking legal advice from an attorney as to whether or not they will pursue court action against the GSU.
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