The Gang Suppression Unit has been under a great deal of public scrutiny after a house-raid that they conducted on the home of the owner of La Cabaña Restaurant and Bar resulted in a major shootout between them and the occupants of the house.
The police claimed that they responded with gunfire after the occupants of the home, Mike Menjivar, 34, Iliana Chacon, 29, and Rumilda Perez, 41, opened fire at them. The accused, however, deny the police report and have since told the media that the GSU team came in over their fence, shooting their dogs and their home without any indication that they were the police, so they acted in self-defense by shooting back.
Menjivar, Chacon and Perez have since been arraigned in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court and jointly charged with (9) counts of attempted murder and (9) counts of aggravated assault. Menjivar was additionally charged with (1) count of damage to property. The three were not allowed to plea in court because the charges are indictable and they were all remanded to the Belize Central Prison. They are to reappear in court on June 22, 2011.
Commander of the GSU, Marco Vidal, told us during an interview today that the total amount of shots fired by the GSU was 41, while 11 shots came from inside of the house.
Vidal told us that the purpose of the raid was to search for controlled drugs and illegal firearms; however none of that was found, only $19,000 total in various denominations in a safe located inside a walk-in closet.
Apart from the three adults - Menjivar and his common-law wife Iliana Chacon, and Perez, their maid -their three children, ages 10, 11 and 13, were also inside the home at the time of the shooting. When Amandala visited the home, blood, which we were told came from the two dogs that were shot and killed at the time of the raid, “greeted” us at the entrance of the yard.
A look inside the home revealed how easily the incident could have become even more nightmarish, possibly tragic, for the children who, helped by the maid, reportedly took cover in the laundry room after all of their windows and room walls had been perforated with bullet holes. It was in this same location that the GSU found the maid and the children, one of whom is reportedly an epileptic who had been sleeping at the time of the raid.
Remarkably, no one lost their lives that morning.
The police sent out a press release early Friday, May 20, 2011, detailing the operation: “On Friday, May 20, 2011, members of the Gang Suppression Unit arrived at the residence of Mike Menjivar, owner of Bar La Cabaña. The personnel identified themselves as police officers and informed the occupants of the house that they had a search warrant to execute.
“Instead of opening the door, the occupants began doing a lot of shuffling and shortly after, a barrage of shots were unleashed directly at the officers standing outside, waiting to be let in. The officers then took cover behind the police vehicle, where the firing at them continued, causing damages to the pickup truck”.
Police did not explain how, if they were standing outside the door and were being shot at from that close range, none of them died, or were even injured.
We spoke with Chacon’s brother, Jose Chacon, who gave a very different account of the incident, and added that they have records to support the scenario that he described. He said that his sister did not know the identities of the individuals who were unloading bullets on their home, so she called the police at 822-2222. “And there is a record of that...”, he said, adding that “she was pleading for assistance, because she thought that she was being robbed.”he saidadding that.”
Chacon said that his sister and Menjivar did not realize that it was the police “because none of the vehicles that were used were marked police or had any lights like the siren lights, so there was no clear indication to tell you that it was police”.
Chacon further explained that this entire incident could have been avoided: “I don’t think they would have reacted in such manner of self-defense or shooting, knowing that there was police; there was nothing found in the house so there was no justification to say oh, they were firing first because they were hiding anything.
“I think this is not the way you carry out a raid. They could have found better ways of doing it. I think they took the wrong approach. If they indeed had a search warrant, it has never been presented to my family or to the attorney as yet”.
Reports are that Menjivar’s family are also claiming that he was beaten severely, and suffered a broken jaw, as well as various bruises and cuts, as a result. Chacon said that, prior to the shootout, Menjivar had just returned from Guatemala, where he had had a medical checkup as follow-up to a surgery he had undergone after being injured in a motorcycle accident.
According to Vidal, however, the claim of self-defense by the accused and their family is just “plain garbage.” He told us that the officers had arrived in two separate unmarked police vehicles with siren lights; the officers, we were told, were not masked.
Vidal also told us that his officers had followed procedures and several attempts were made to communicate with the persons inside the house. Vidal explained that the officers announced themselves on more than one occasion, but were greeted with gunfire while they were waiting outside the house for the occupants to open the door. “Certainly what they are saying is totally false. Police officers approached the door, knocked at the door and identified themselves as police officers. When there was no response, they continued to knock on the door and informed the occupants that it was police; again, there was no response,” said Vidal.
Vidal also maintained that the dogs were not killed by his officers, but rather by the gunfire coming from their owners.
Vidal lastly insisted to us that the family was shown the warrant for the execution of their search.