Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
In the past few weeks, there's been so much controversy about Coast Guard vessels donated by the US Government. That's after the Defense Minister John Saldivar started using them to ferry around his basketball team. The US publicly frowned at that practice, forcing the Prime Minister to declare, "that sort of use, is now absolutely and completely off the table."
So that's now the law for the police department which today received its own mini-fleet of high speed vessels from the US.
Our 7News team was at the Coast Guard Headquarters in Belize City for the handing-over ceremony, and Daniel Ortiz has that story:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
At the Coast Guard's Headquarters, the US Embassy's Charge D affaires handed over 3 new high-speed vessels to the Police Commissioner. They signed the documents, making it final, and as soon as all the formalities were done, the VIP's boarded one of the boats for a Friday morning test run. They got the first joy ride in what will be the flagship vessels for the Anti-Narcotics Unit. And, who isn't grateful to get new toys?
Allen Whylie - Commissioner of Police "Thank you all for making today a reality. I can assure that those assets will be maintained they'll be properly utilized by the personnel. We are also appreciative of the efforts done in terms of the training to ensure that our persons are competent."
These three Colombian vessels were actually vessels seized from narco-traffickers who were caught by the authorities. Ironically, these vessels that were once used in illicit activities will now be used to help combat lawlessness in Belize's waterways.
It's a 450,000 US-dollar donation that the US Government is making, on top of the 40 Million-Dollar US dollars that Belize has already been gifted over 9 years. These boats will revive the maritime capabilities that the Police Department used to have.
The Commissioner believes that the Anti-Narcotics Unit, which used to be known as the Anti-Drug Unit, will put them to good use to catch drugs
Allen Whylie - Commissioner of Police "The Belize Police Department used to have a maritime unit, over the years that became defunct. The Anti-Drugs Unit when they were formed had a few vessels and again vessels are a very costly venture to maintain and to equip. And so through the years, those vessels became in a state of disrepair. These vessels that we were given today were retrofitted; some of them were for the anti-narcotics unit and so they were retrofitted to allow the unit to expand in terms of their role in their maritime domain. They are leading the charge in terms of our anti-drug fighting efforts. And I'm certain that now that they have these vessels they'll be put to proper use to work in a collaborative fashion with other law enforcement agencies while also they'll be able to operate independently on their own. And I'm certain that will lead to continued success at that unit."
Notably, there was no minister of government at today's event - despite the fact that there are two Ministers with responsibility for Home Affairs.
The Coast Guard has trained the Anti-Narcotics Unit in maintaining these vessels. For more in depth work, a third party has been retained with a maintenance contract - which is underwritten by the US.
That handing-over session from this morning allowed the media to grill Police Commissioner Allen Whylie about the many police incidents making news in the past 2 weeks.
First on the list was the case of the UDP Minister Edmond Castro's sons, and how the police resolved it.
The Castro boys were allegedly caught driving without licenses, and they allegedly assaulted the police. That allegedly led to them being beaten by police, and both the Southside Police Commander and their defense attorney assert that they settled the incident with the understanding that the boys would go free without any charge, and that they wouldn't press charges against the officers who allegedly abused them.
It's being touted as an amicable resolution, but it seems to go against an internal memo sent by the Commissioner in January directing there should be no kind of negotiation for criminal wrongdoing. It's dated January 6, 2017, and Commissioner Whylie writes to all commanders, saying, quote, "With immediate effect, all persons are to be charged once a crime has been committed and there is evidence to support the charge. In no circumstances, should any deal be made with criminal elements found committing or having committed a crime. In essence, no negotiation" End quote.
So, is the Commissioner satisfied that Southside Commander Chester Williams, and the officers involved complied with his directive? Here's how he responded to that today:
Reporter "When you look at the internal memorandum that was sent - from your desk in January, saying that there should be no negotiations. Once a crime is committed charges ought to be filed."
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "Yes I understand that. I have been briefed by the commander and I will say that he has said what occurred and the reasons why he took the actions he did and I will say that I support him in terms of the actions that he took."
Reporter "Didn't you question the way things evolve, the way things took place? I mean, I understand he is a commander and you have to have confidence in him as a commander, because you place him there, but they do falter at times as well. Has it not perhaps occurred to you or perhaps that he probably did something wrong or went against procedures?"
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "No. as I said he briefed me in terms of what occurred based on his review and follow up with the various individuals and I am satisfied in terms of the decision he took and I consider the matter close. I support him."
Reporter "Specifically this report we have copies of it. It's in the criminal information management system which is what the police use to make police reports. Mr. Williams - his position is that that doesn't exist. This complaint from your officers against Mr. Jafari does not exist. As far as you are concern does it exist?"
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "As I said the matter has been discussed, Mr. Williams has said what he has said, the media has said what they have said and as I indicate I am satisfied in terms of the decisions he took and I can consider that matter closed. I won't comment further on that."
Reporter "Did you at least speak to PC Coc or PC Caliz who were actually the officers involved in this situation to get a thorough...?"
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "I said I will not comment any further on that. I am satisfied in terms of the action taken."
The Commissioner also commented on a constable and a special constable from San Pedro who were charged for allegedly extorting an American Tourist, threatening him with a gun to the head, and eventually robbing him.
28-year-old Timothy Braun reported to police that last Thursday evening, he was in downtown San Pedro smoking a cigarette. 3 uniformed police personnel pulled up and accused him of smoking marijuana. He insisted that he wasn't, but the officers handcuffed him, placed him on their golf cart, and drove him to a dark area along the Boca Del Rio. That's where one of the officers allegedly put a gun to his head and told him that if he didn't give them all his money, he would end up in the river. He took them to his rental apartment, and they allegedly stole $500 US.
A few days later, Constable Denfield Nelson Ramos was charged with theft, extortion, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Special Constable Orlando Mendez was also charged with Theft and extortion.
That's a serious complaint against these officers that they abused public trust, and today, the Commissioner said that the swift criminal action is a sign of his maintenance of zero-tolerance for rogue police behaviour:
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "Very unfortunate and regrettable incident. As I've always indicated the department we do not tolerate wrongdoing as long as it is brought to our attention we will definitely address it. In that case the matter was investigated by the CIB officers out there and they concluded after consulting with our legal officer, that we had sufficient evidence to charge and therefore those officers were charged. There is the issue of free will which you would know each individual has and they as the individual have got to decide if they will do good or do and they do bad, things like this occur and we address them and we address then swiftly."
Reporter "Are you able to share with us because the charges came rather swiftly, how you all crack the case so quickly?"
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "I wasn't the investigator and so I cannot really share those kind of details, but based on what the commander informed me, I give him certain directives, he comply with those by seeking the advice of our legal advisor as well as the head of the prosecution branch and they were satisfied that we had sufficient evidence to make a case and that's we arrested and charge swiftly."
Reporter "Is it a concern of yours that these officers it appears abused this tourist who knows very little of how our system work and so because he is an officer if the law, it appear as though he attack or struck on a victim who was helpless so to speak."
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "I am always concern when there are any complaint against police officers and against the department and that why I say we view them seriously and we go all out to either prove or disprove. So whether it was a tourist involved or a local, it's the same principle involved. Officers should be professional and should not be involved in these sort of allege activities."
We also pressed the Commissioner for an update on case of Richard Allen Garcia who was shot and killed by Police in Corozal village of Chunox.
It happened 14 days ago, when, according to police, he aggressed armed officers with a machete, forcing them to defend themselves by using deadly force to stop him from hurting them. Chunox villagers reject that completely, saying the police had been drinking, and did not use justifiable use of force and harm.
The commissioner said that the Professional Standards Branch is still investigating:
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "The investigation is ongoing. It has not yet been concluded. Number of statements were recorded from witnesses as well as the officer who were present. As soon as that case is concluded that file will be sent to the director of public prosecution and she will advise us on the way forward."
So, with all the negative police publicity, the Department didn't exactly get glowing press during Police Week. It's supposed to be all about highlighting the good work that the 2,300 officers do every day, but these high-profile police controversies focussed on bad or controversial deeds.
The Commissioner didn't lament that today; he said he's a realist:
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "In deed we would love to be able to do police week on an annual basis. Through the years it was not properly financed and what we did last year when we decided that we wanted to make serious effort in having police week, we ensured that we put it in the budget. Once it was in the budget then it allowed for the financing, it allowed for the purchasing for the various medals and all the different arrangements that were required. So in deed we will be taking the position that either annually we will be doing police week or every two years we will be doing police week. Even if we don't do police week we will still be out there interacting with the greater community to showcase the work that the police department do,"
"In deed we had a lot of officer who were awarded simple because of the fact that we hadn't done so for a number of years, but I want to say that those officers who were awarded in deed through the years they have done their work to the best of their ability. They have stayed out of complaints being made against them or convicted within our disciplinary system. They have also stayed away from being criminally accused or arrested and tried and convicted and those are all criteria's which made them eligible for the categories of medals that they got and so I would again like to publicly recognized and thank those officers for their hard and dedicated years of service as well as all other members of the police department who continue to work tirelessly to try to ensure our citizens are safe and secure across the length and breadth of this country."
And our final story from the Police Commissioner before we go to break is about his Hattieville Commander, Assistant Superintendent Rochelle Chan.
Last week, he had to go before the Senate Select Committee to defend his reputation after Alvarine Burgess accused him of being a major player in the visa hustling business.
Burgess told the Senators that Chan recruited her to get visas for Chinese Nationals by bribing Minister of Government for recommendation letters which assured that visas would be automatically approved. Chan responded saying that she is lying and that she made up the entire story to ruin his reputation. So, what does his police boss think about a senior officer brought into such a controversy? Here's how the COMPOL put it:
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police "I have heard of it and I will say that it would be improper and unprofessional of myself to comment in respect to that allegation. The senate committee is ongoing and I'm certain that whenever they conclude their inquiry they will be writing their reports and making a number of recommendations for further action and so I would wait to see how that goes."
Reporter "But sir, have you at least met with him or spoken with him regarding the allegations? I mean it is your department and it does put somewhat of a black eye on the department which is your concern."
Allen Whylie "No. I have not spoken with him. As I said, it is an allegation. All citizens of Belize are entitled to be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. He's a police officer but he's still entitled to the same rights as every other person, so I have not spoken to him on that."
Reporter "Sir you've said that the senate [inquiry] will run its course and if whatever decisions the senators make in their reports, should they direct that criminal action be taken, is it a commitment from you that those will be carried through if the decision is made that criminal prosecution must be done or that further investigation is done?"
Allen Whylie "Whatever the senate committee does or recommends I'm certain those recommendations won't come to me because there is a process. But whenever and if it reaches that stage I can assure you that we'll do what we need to do."
Later on in the newscast, we'll have just a little bit more from the Commissioner when he'll discuss all those officers he honoured yesterday for long and exemplary service.
Today, 25 year old Kashief Gallego, a resident of the Waxhouse area in Belize City, was charged for the murder of Jermaine Franklin. Gallego allegedly shot Franklin inside Teddy's DVD store on King Street on Wednesday at 6:20 and fled.
Police pulled security video from surrounding businesses and caught him later that night. Gallego is known to hang out right around the corner from where the murder occurred. He was remanded into custody until August 23.
Police have no motive for the murder and say Franklin was not known to be involved in any gang.
And while Gallego's murder case is just starting, another one is wrapping up.
Today, Freddy Blanco appeared in the Supreme Court before Justice Herbert Lord to change his plea after being in custody for almost 6 years.
In September 2011, when he was only 16, Blanco was charged for the murder of Nelsi Chuc, a married, 26 year old mother of a seven year old - with whom he was having an affair.
The incident happened in August Pine Ridge where the story goes, Blanco, Chuc and another woman were smoking weed in a cane field in the August Pine Ridge area when the couple got into an argument over who was smoking more weed. Blanco stormed off, got a ride home and retrieved a shot gun that his father was repairing. He then rode back to the cane field and fired a single shot to Chuc's chest, killing her on the spot.
Blanco handed himself over to police the next day, and pled guilty to murder in court the day after that.
Blanco, now 22, returned to court this afternoon and changed his plea to guilty for a lesser charge. His attorney, Oscar Selgado, made a plea for mitigation, asking the judge for leniency. Selgado asked that the court impose a sentence between 14-18 years, citing that Blanco had enrolled in several rehabilitation programs over the last few years.
Blanco was eventually handed a sentence of 17 years with eligibility for parole after 4.
It took them two days to muster the spiritual indignation, but the National Evangelical Association of Belize has finally blasted the US Embassy for raising the rainbow flag.
In a statement issued today, NEAB, quote, "expresses its disgust at the US Embassy flying the LGBT flag at the Embassy in Belmopan."
From there the statement goes ad-hominem, suggesting that US President Donald Trump would not approve. They say, quote, "These rogue views continue to be pushed by leftover appointees of the Obama Administration at the US Embassy and are not in line with the views and convictions of the Belizean populace. It is our hope that this event will expedite the appointment of a new US Ambassador under the new US President." end quote.
And apart from suggesting that some firings are in order, NEAB also does a little chest thumping, boasting that pro-Christian, anti-gay rights forces won a victory at the OAS General Assembly in Cancun this week. They note the failure of an attempt to widen the definition of human rights in an annual resolution on human rights. The new provision sought to protect individuals with intersex traits and condemn"homophobia and transphobia." Paraguay, Jamaica, Guatemala, Suriname, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados expressed reservations, and in the end, the assembly had to adopt the language of last year's resolution.
The Mobile Interdiction recovered an abandoned drug vessel yesterday. The un-marked, abandoned vessel was found at the north end of the Placencia Peninsula near Riversdale. The water bottles on board were from Honduras, and it was found with four barrels of fuel and two outboard engines, which is typical of drug trafficking vessels. But it had been abandoned and there was no cargo on board, suggesting that whatever illicit substance was being carried was transferred for transshipment north.
The Football Federation's 10th. Congress is scheduled for tomorrow morning but, tonight, no one's quite sure if the meeting will even go ahead. That's because four of the District Associations and the Premier League have written to the FFB saying they will not participate. Without those five bodies - the Congress will not have the required quorum. The associations are objecting to the FFB decision barring Sergio Chuc and others from offering themselves as President.
But, the FFB is doing its best to force these associations back into the fold. The secretariat sent out a letter yesterday telling those associations which have gone rogue that they want to see the minutes of the meetings where the decision was approved to boycott tomorrow's congress. That has been provided, we are told.
Chuc has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports and urged the associations not to participate in what he believes is an illegitimate process.
The FFB also says it will answers concerns about Chuc's candidacy with a letter from the FIFA ethics Committee.
Will that be enough to bring those associations to the Congress tomorrow? Inside information says it's unlikely, but we'll have to wait and see.
The candidates are Senior Vice President Marlon Kuylen and Past President Rupert Vicente. The Toledo, Stand Creek and Belize District associations are expected to be there to show support for them - three associations when the minimum for a quorum is 5.
During easter-time, and the warm months of April and May, we regularly report on so many unfortunate drownings - especially involving younger persons. The fact is that many go swimming without the ability to truly handle themselves in changing water conditions. And that's where lifeguards come in. They are the safety providers and life-savers in the case of an emergency in the water. True, they might not be a familiar sight in Belize, but the YWCA is hoping to change that with its annual lifeguard training where they encourage young Belizeans to train in this neglected area of public safety. Lifeguards from Gateway YMCA in St. Louis, Missouri, are providing the training this year, and I went to visit with them this afternoon:
The media is always covering workshops, but today we were the ones being hosted at one. It was held by NICH agencies, The Institute for Social and Cultural Research and the Institute of Archaeology. The idea is to get the media on board with 2016's National Culture Policy so that we can make the public more aware of what is called the Belize Cultural model. Selene Solis explains:
Today's session at the House of Culture was for media houses from Northern Belize, Belize District and the Cayes, and another will be held tomorrow for media houses in Western Belize, Belmopan and Southern Belize.
He's a convicted murderer who assaulted court reporter Anita Nembhard in February. On February 16th - the same day he was convicted of murder - Byron James was was among the prisoners being taken from the holding cell at Magistrate's Court to go back to jail. He stepped out of the line of prisoners and lunged at Nembhard, striking her in the face. At the time she was taking photos of the prisoners.
She made a complaint and requested court action, but police took months to bring a charge - and only after the DPP intervened.
So, today, James was brought back to court and charged for harm. Nembhard had sustained a mild fracture to her nose.
He appeared before Chief Magistrate, Anne Marie Smith in Court #1 and pleaded not guilty to the charge.
His next court date is July 11, 2017 and since he is on remand awaiting sentencing, no bail could be offered to him so he went back to jail where he is awaiting sentencing for the murder of Frank Vasquez.
The Youth Apprenticeship Program offers many young Belizeans a chance at learning new skills and acquiring a job that they would not have access to otherwise. But in order to hold down a job, you need the be able communicate properly and work well with others. RET International is helping the participants of the Youth Apprenticeship Program do just that. Over the last week, RET has been conducting Employability Training to teach the participants important skills needed in the work place. The course ended today, and we went to the graduation ceremony where we spoke to the RET International's Program Coordinator about the training session...
Melanie Barnes, Nat'l Program Coord., RET Int'l "The idea was to train the youths that apart of the Youth Apprenticeship Program in employability skills. As you know part of the program is that they will be going on apprenticeships at different jobs, so we wanted to give them some skills, some aptitudes that can help them to be successful in their apprenticeship as well as prepare them for the world of work, for their future. So that was what the training was about - to in a participatory and a very active manner, because you know we are working with young people to give them skills necessary for them to be successful on the job places."
Reporter "So when we talk about employability skills, what exactly are we looking at?"
Melanie Barnes, Nat'l Program Coord., RET Int'l "We are looking at communication, verbal communication, your body language - those kinds of communication on a whole. We are looking at attitudes. We are looking at writing skills - how they are able to communicate through writing. We are looking at problem solving and critical thinking. Those kids of soft skills that are not necessarily trained as part of your schooling, but its necessary on the job places."
The participants were also taught how to handle criticism and use it to further develop their skills.
Yesterday, almost 300 police officers were honored, for long, exemplary and outstanding service in a ceremony at the police academy. It's a moment of great pride for these career cops who've given their lives to law enforcement. And, plus, it's a chance for them to dress up in those crisp white ceremonial uniforms and march across the parade square like the recruits do.
ACP Robert Mariano - himself an honoree - put it in perspective for his fellow officers:...
And if it seems like a whole lot of officers being honored, the truth is that it's been years since the Department last held a ceremony like this. Today the Commissioner told us that he wants it to be an annual, or at least bi-annual celebration:
And to put a cap on police week for us, we stopped by the Eastern Division Sports day at the Yabra Green. That's where police did everything from running a marathon, to playing competitive dominoes, to running five-on-five basketball - where even the commissioner participated.
Inspector Fitzroy Yearwood explained:..
As for the much hyped media - police showdown on the basketball court, it didn't happen because, unlike the police, we in the media have to work on weekdays. The media asked repeatedly for it to be moved to Saturday - to no avail.
Villagers in Libertad won't have to worry about flash floods catching them like it did last year. This is after NEMO deployed heavy equipment to clear a troublesome drain. Now, this is routine work that should be done before any rainy season - but area rep. Angel Campos and the NEMO Minister Edmond Castro did their best to make it into a major event: