Parents of Hilberto Sotz Want Justice for His Death
The Belize Police Department issued an official release on the incident. The release says that Sotz was detained by Caye Caulker Police yesterday morning at around 11:50 pending investigation into a series of burglaries. He was in police custody for five hours because according to the release quote, “Sometime around 5:00 pm, while being interviewed, he reportedly started complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing. He was rushed to the poly clinic for medical treatment where he passed away”, end of quote. That’s the police version of the events- chest pain and difficulty breathing. But what caused those chest pains and his difficulty breathing that ultimately caused his death? As you heard from the villagers, police officers allegedly beat him to death. However, the police department, through the same release believes that Sotz subsequently died unexpectedly. From all accounts, that story isn’t sticking and Sotz parents believe otherwise. The parents are having a hard time coping with the death of their first born child. The couple, Saturino and Carmelina Sotz arrived on the mainland last night and are awaiting the post mortem examination for their son. Love News caught up with them earlier today. According to the parents, Hilberto was picked up as a suspect for a burglary that happened in the village on Sunday night …. The crucial part in this entire ordeal is that Hilberto was reportedly not even on the island when the burglary occurred. Hilberto arrived back on Caye Caulker on Monday morning and was picked up at the pier by his father.
“When I met him near Friendship, he told me that he came back; then he jumped in the golf cart with me because I was running taxi at the time. So as I jumped into my taxi, I saw Nunez, the police, come and tell me to stop and that my son was under arrest pending an investigation. I asked him why my son was under investigation when my son was not here. He said not to worry and took my son by the pants and dragged him like a dog. As he dragged my son I told him, ‘Officer, my son is not guilty of anything; just take care of my son and don’t let anything happen to him’. I talked to them and he said yes. So about two hours after that a young man came and told me that my son wanted to see me at the station. So I went to see my son but the W, Miss Ramos … when my son heard that I got there he started knocking on the door. Miss Ramos told me that I can’t come see my son. So then she told me to get out of the station. I told her ma’am I have the right to see my son, I want to see what is happening because someone told me that my son wanted to see me. She said that I couldn’t see him any at all. I told her alright and then I came out.”
Once the police detained Hilberto, the family says despite his request to see his father, he never did get that opportunity and shortly thereafter, he died in the custody of the police officers at Caye Caulker. They are still in disbelief particularly because of the cause of death that police are saying.
“The first news I got was when he was dead already. They got here and told me about five minutes after six when they told me. Nunez came to tell me and said, “Can we talk to you Miss?” Nunez and the other one in the stripes. Then they took me downstairs, I thought it was my husband got sick but then when they told me that they had sad news for me I asked them what? They said “a sad news, be strong for what we are about to tell you.” So the police man told me and I asked what happened. They told me, “Sorry, Miss but your son passed away”. So I asked them why and they told me that he passed away due to breathing problems.” I asked them why since my son was not a person who was usually sick, I’ve never taken my son to the hospital. They told me that my son passed away due to breathing problems but then that concerns me because my son is not a person that I have to take to the hospital, I have never taken my son to the hospital for any kind of sickness. I don’t believe it, that is what is killing me inside. I want to be strong but I can’t because inside I just can’t take it.”
As we mentioned, senior officials in the Belize Police Department have been dispatched to the island to conduct intense investigations into this matter.
Detainee Dies In Police Custody; Angry, Caye Caulker Riots
Last night, we told you about the riot that broke out on Caye Caulker following the news that 18 year-old Hilberto Sotz died while in police custody inside the island's Police station. Public order was seriously threatened as a man of over 200 gathered, Island police called in the Eastern Division strike team from Belize City. Residents say police fired live rounds to drive away the mob - an event which has stirred even more outrage at the police. Order was restored by 10:30 and the crowd dissipated by 11:00. There was no major property damage.
When our news team visited La Isla Carinosa today we found a community bruised by serial police abuses and galvanized in anger by what they say is the murder of an innocent teen. Daniel Ortiz reports:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Caye Caulker looked calm today but events from yesterday left destruction and property damage to this clinic, broken glass on the window sill where pint bottles were hurled in rage, a tense police presence to ensure no recurrence, a dead teenager known as
18 year-old Hilberto Sotz, his grieving family, and a community just under its boiling point, waiting for police to make one more wrong move:
Carmelina Sotz - Mother of Deceased
"He was my baby. He was my gold, was my eyeball. I gave him everything. I work hard to raise him. I didn't know this is the way how he will end."
Hilberto Sotz died in police hands at the Caye Caulker Police Station.
The outrage provoked by that killing escalated to a full scale riot where residents threw rocks and pint bottles at the Clinic and the police barracks. But, how did it escalate to that point?
Well it all goes back to Sunday night, when someone went on a burglary spree and targeted this green house.
That led police to round up youths from the island including Hilbert. But he was in Belmopan on the night of the burglary - he arrived on the island the day after the burglary, which his family believes should have been proof enough to exonerate him.
Santorino Sotz - Father of Deceased
"Ten youths were arrested. A burglary happened yesterday night and my son was not there. My son was in Belmopan. So my son reached at 8:45 on the first boat. When my son reached at 8:45 I took him home to see his mom, because he said he wanted to see his mom."
"I am a tacos vender of Caye Caulker and I saw personally the little boy came off the water taxi. I think it was the first boat from Belize City to Caye Caulker and his father picked him up and they bought something in front of my place. They went inside the shop and the father bought a beer and the father say let's go home."
Nevertheless, he was picked up by a police officer
"The police came and told me to stop and he said that my son is under arrest for an investigation. And I told him 'officer how is my son under investigation when he was not here?' He said 'no worry, let's go' and he grab my son on his pants and drag him like a dog. As he dragged my son I went straight at the police station and told the officer that my son doesn't know anything about anything. I told the officer to take care of my son and that I don't want them to hurt my son."
Hilberto called for his father 2 hours after being detained but the police refused to allow him access. A short time later, Santorino received information that Hilberto was dead.
"When I reached at the doctor, the doctor told me that when the police reached at the Medic center, my son was already dead."
"How did he die?"
"The rest of the prisoners say that they (police) put the plastic over his head and start to beat him. Right now another youth is locked up, they beat him bad."
Voice of: Rajiv Castillo - Island Resident
"Look like they put a plastic bag over the man head and threw chemical (pepper spray) in the bag and it look like he passed out."
"I don't know why they had to do that? Why they didn't take him to the magistrate and have the magistrate deal with it? I don't think they have the right to beat a person to death."
According to the residents, police initially tried to deflect blame by suggesting that he died at the clinic
Voice of Eyewitness
"Yesterday evening after they beat up the little boy, they went at the clinic and they wanted the doctor to say that the little boy died at the clinic. But the little boy was already dead, because I was a witness. I was in one of the Chinese shop when I saw them pass with the little boy on the golf cart - two police and the little boy. But the little boy didn't look normal. He was leaning and they holding him up."
The Caulker Police also told Hilberto's Mother, Carmelina that he died from a breathing problem, something she rejects completely.
"Now I want to make it very clear. Was your son a healthy young man with no known health problems? Did he have maybe a congenital heart defect? Did he have respiratory problems? Did he have any problems?"
Carmelina Sotz - Mother of Deceased
"No problems. I swear to God I never come to the hospital with son at any time. That's why that is what is killing me inside. I want to be strong, but I can't, because inside of me just can't take it anymore."
That has led the family and friends to assert that police killed him.
Kareema Garnett - Observed Riot
"The police are chancey and it is them who killed the little boy. I don't know why they don't come out here like how they were out here last night pappy showing themselves. It is not right. They killed the little boy and they should own up to what they did."
That's bad enough, but because no one was giving the family answers, the community started gathering in their support. They started to demand from police an explanation of how the young man died. When none was forthcoming, tempers were already hot, and it took one incident to rub the crowd the wrong way, and it escalated to a riot.
Kareema Garnett - Observed Riot
"The whole reason the riot started was because the police came downstairs and pointed in the father of the dead child face. He came down and point in his face and told him to stop talk stupidness. The man was talking for his rights. After that he came downstairs, drove in the golf cart and knock a guy off his bike. That is why everybody start to fight with him and he ride gone and bring an entire force and they came pushing and slapping people. That is not right."
Deon - Island Resident
"The GSU Unit came in here and firing so many shots. They fired almost 300 rounds last night, throwing down people on the ground, pushing guns in females' faces - that type of respond was not needed last night. What was needed was the people coming in here and try to give the people answers. People were out here looking for answers and all they got was police brutality. They didn't get any response. The units that came in, they just came in clearing the streets with their shot guns and their automatic rifles and pointing guns and pushing people to the ground - all type of stuff that wasn't needed last night. It just escalated the issue. People out here are tired of what the police been doing for months and it's not like the commanding officer of the police department doesn't know, because I personally have sent emails and went to meet with officials in San Pedro about the activity on police officers on this island."
"Were you even able to determine about how many shots were fired?"
Deon - Island Resident
"About 300 shots, maybe more. The police officers work this morning early when I got up and they were walking around picking up the suspended shells."
The whole island is especially enraged because it is the third man to die inside that police station.
Voice of: Island Resident
"Right now the whole island is mad about what happened, because this is the third time they are killing somebody in that station. The police are based on the "black" neighborhood, they said that they will arrest them because they were stoning. It's not only them stoning, the whole community was stoning at the clinic and at the policemen, because all of us are tired of it. I don't know what they are only base on "black" neighborhood. Everyone was stoning. So, if they detained 6 of them over there, they should detained the whole island."
Voice of: Island Resident 2
"I hear a little talking this morning about they have a couple names written down who they will pick up to do things to. I just want to tell the media this, I am not a bad man, but all they will do is start another riot. Because if they come for me or any one of us out here and lock us up, it is going further and I want the media to know we are really tired of this and want justice. We need justice. We are tired of it."
Voice of: Island Resident
"The little boy that they killed wasn't on the island. That little boy just reach yesterday on the island and they grab that little boy and they tortured him until they killed him."
Deon - Island Resident
"The first thing they are going to try to do with this kid's name is try to dirty him up and make him look like he is a criminal. He wasn't that type of kid. He was a hard working kid. Everybody gets in a little contact with police every now and again. Show me somebody that haven't had contact with police department."
"What do you expect will happen now?"
Deon - Island Resident
"As far as I know one officer was detained and the other one was held as material witness. What I want and what the community wants, we want answers. Because we don't want them to sweep this under the carpet like they always do. We need answers."
In relation to how the police handled last night riot, we've been able to get some perspective from some of the responding officers.
The eastern division strike team led by Commander of Operations Sr. Supt Alford Grinage deployed for Caye Caulker at 7:45 pm last night. They arrived on the island at around 8:30 where they were joined by a deployment from the San Pedro formation. They encountered two to three hundred hostile residents in front of the polyclinic where police had deposited the body of 18-year-old Hilberto Sotz. As we told you, they had been stoning the building and at island police. A total of 50 police officers using full riot gear formed a line and pushed the crowd back with shields. Police say they did not fire any live rounds. Within an hour the police say they had the situation under control - meaning the crowd had calmed down.
But, as we showed you, the police back up which the community complained about was the Gang Suppression Unit. As we showed you, live rounds were fired, most people we spoke to agree that the armed GSU officers aimed their weapons into the air, but just the threat of armed officers with high powered weapons caused residents to complain that the police were using leach force excessively. We tried to get a response from the Commander of the GSU, Inspector Mark Flowers, and he declined. He said that the island residents weren't being completely truthful dismissing the issues raised as idle talk and misrepresentation.
Sotz’s Family Says That Island Police Has Extorted ThemIf you think that police brutality and the unlawful killing of their son is the only complaint that the Sotz family has against Caye Caulker Police, you'd be surprised to find out that they have more.
While discussing the death of their son in police hands, Hilberto's parents shared their account of a police encounter in which his father went to make a compliant and ended up detained, and that his mother had to pay a bribe to get him released. Here's that accusation in their own words:
"The other day I was taking care of hostel, because the guy went to the States. So now, I left my son in the place to sleep. Someone went into the back and stole a box. So now I went and report to the police that somebody went into the place and stole a box. You know what they did, instead of they investigate and go check where it is, they locked me up. They locked me up and I am taking care of the place. They locked me up for two days and my wife had to pay $75 to pay the police for them to release me."
"Is that for true?"
"That $75 was not the only money they asked me for, they ask me for $150 to release my husband. But then I told them that I don't have any money. 'Oh yes Miss Ketchi (that how they called me), you make money with that hostel, so you can give us money.' That's what they told me."
"Ma'am that's unbelievable. I'm not saying you're not telling the truth, but that sounds crazy. Is that for real?"
"It's true. I am not lying. I told them that I do not have the money that they were asking for, all I have is $75. They say okay then and asked me when I will give them the rest. Then I promise them the next day, but I only want them to take him out, because he is a person who get too angry and I don't want him to get sick and that's why I tried my best to take him out. I only give them the $75 and then I promise them to give them the rest the next day. The next day I never gave them the money."
In that interview, the Sotz family also accused officers attached to the Caye Caulker Sub-Formation of entrapment where they would force known drug dealers to offer the sale of drugs to tourists. That could easily be explained a sting operation meant to catch tourists in the act of breaking the country's drug laws. But, person we've spoken to on the island say that these officers then approach these tourists who've bought the drugs and extort them for money in exchange for no criminal prosecution. Such a case was recently reported where Police Constable Daniel Requena allegedly caught a tourist with a small amount of marijuana and told her she would go to jail unless she paid him eight hundred dollars. He was arrested and charged for extortion.
Professional Standards Comments On Sotz’s Death In Police Custody Very early in the morning, we tried to get a comment from Inspector Henry Jemmott, the Officer Commanding the Department, Coastal Executive Unit. He's in charge of police operations in both Caye Caulker and San Pedro. When we approached him he told us that police bosses at Eastern Division told him that the Police Press Officer, Raphael Martinez would handle any interviews or inquiry in relation to this case.
When our colleagues contacted Martinez, he informed them that orders higher up were that a press release would be sent. It appeared that no one wanted to bite the bullet and face the tough questions of the press in relation to Hilberto Sotz's death. That's until we got a chance to speak with Assistant Police Commissioner Noel Leal, the officer commanding the Professional Standards Branch, which is known also as internal affairs. Here's how that conversation went with the lead investigator in this case:
ACP Noel Leal, Commander, Professional Standards Branch
"We are running a parallel investigation; a criminal investigation and an internal investigation. But the presence of the police on a whole generally is also to maintain law and order and to ensure the safety of everyone here on the island."
"Are you able to give us anything at this time in terms of your investigation? We understand that you have two officers detained pending investigation. Is that in deed confirmed?"
ACP Noel Leal
"Yes that is confirmed. We have two officers detained pending investigation. The preliminary work that we have done so far in addition to recording statements from witnesses and other officers and so, we also visited the morgue in Belize City this morning where we did an inspection of the body and that will be followed later by a post mortem this afternoon and I can tell you that we have more questions to ask. So we will be doing that during the course of the day and probably by tomorrow we will be aiming to make a conclusive determination as to what we will be doing next on regards to this investigation."
"Persons out here strongly suspect that this gentleman died in police custody and that unethical actions were taken against him that he was brutalized. Some have gone as far as to suggest that he was stifled and that the police try to cover it up by taking him to the health center and suggest to the doctor that he died there instead of at the police station. Are you able to address any of them?"
ACP Noel Leal
"I can tell you that we have recorded quite a few statements and we are doing all the necessary paper work, but a lot of what goes on next will depend on the post mortem this afternoon. So I would want to preempt the results of that. Definitely there are some very great questions to ask, but because we are mandated to this kind of investigation, we will be transparent and we will leave no stone unturned and whoever has to be dealt with will be dealt with and that is no question about it."
The official report from the police department starts by offering condolences to Sotz family for the death of their son, Hilberto. The release says, quote, "The Belize Police Department extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends...of Mr. Hilberto Sotz who was detained by the police in Caye Caulker and subsequently died unexpectedly. The Commissioner of Police...assure(s)...that an expeditious, thorough and transparent criminal, as well as internal investigation is presently underway and any evidence of wrong doing will be promptly dealt with. The outcome of those investigations will be made public at the earliest."
Now, as we told you, the officers say he died from a breathing problem. The officers at Caye Caulker who had custody of Sotz told their bosses, quote, "At around 11 a.m. on Monday…Sotz… was detained at Caye Caulker police station pending investigation into a series of burglaries. Sometime around 5:00pm, while being interviewed, he reportedly started complaining of chest pain and had difficulty breathing. He was rushed to the poly clinic for medical treatment where he passed away."
As we told you, the family and entire community do not believe that Hilberto Sotz died from some breathing problem. They suspect that he was brutalized and stifled to death inside the police station and then rushed to the Caye Caulker Clinic. The results of the post-mortem will confirm how he died.
Mayhem on La Isla Carinosa, Residents Riot Following Death of Teenager
All hell broke loose on Caye Caulker on Monday night after word spread across the island that a young man had died while in police custody. Protesters took the streets and the Gang Suppression Unit was later called into the island to bring control. Eighteen-year-old Hilberto Sotz was detained before noon on Monday and hours later he was pronounced dead. He is the third person to die while in custody at the Caye Caulker station. But how did he? There are still more troubling questions than answers and as investigations take place, fingers are pointing at one particular cop. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following report.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Pandemonium on La Isla Carinosa, following the mysterious death of a teenager in police custody. The convergence of officers on the tiny island, from various branches of law enforcement, was prompted by an angry mob that gathered outside of this polyclinic on Monday evening. That was shortly after it became apparent that eighteen-year-old Hilberto Sotz died while in detention at the Caye Caulker Police Station. Word of his demise would trigger widespread unrest across the island, resulting in an all-out confrontation between residents and officers. Carmelina Sotz, the grieving mother, is still in a state of shock.
Carmelina Sotz, Mother of Deceased Teen
“I neva know that he mi deh lockdown until when he done dead already then I get to know that he was detained.”
Hilberto Sotz had been taken into custody shortly before midday, after being wanted for questioning into a series of burglaries in the village.
“When di burglary happened da Sunday night. My son neva mi deh pan di island. He mih deh da Belmopan, yeah, because he go dah school da Belmopan Baptist High School. He deh da second form and he neva mi deh pan di island when da thing happen.”
According to a police report issued earlier today, he was held at the station until five o’clock when an interview got underway. Sometime thereafter he reportedly complained of chest pains and difficulty breathing. Officers on duty would later show up at the family residence in Bahia Puesto del Sol in search of his parents.
“The police dehn gaan gaan look fi me five minutes after six when dehn tell me that dehn wahn talk to me. So I gaan downstairs with them but I mi think that dehn di look fu my son. When I hyah dehn seh, “Ah waan yo be strong, so Mr. Nunez mi tell me.” Dehn I ask why. Ih seh we have wahn sad news fi give you miss, so ih tell me. Dehn I ask why, what? Ih seh, dah wahn sad news, I sorry fi cohn give yo it but da your son passed away.”
Naturally, Sotz inquired into the circumstances surrounding her son’s sudden death.
“Dehn tell me dat da wahn breathing problem. Dehn I know as a mother, I da ih ma, I neva, neva bring my son da hospital no time from since he was a baby. Neva yet. So why da breathing problem, I noh know.”
The absence of a proper medical explanation has led many to believe that Hilberto perished as a result of police brutality. According to Anita Baker, it would not be the first incident of police brutality to be reported here.
Anita Baker, Caye Caulker Resident
“Dehn harass di lee bwai dehn every, every time, especially di one weh dehn seh kill di lee bwai, he da di main one. We have problem with he pan dis island ya so da time mek he, I feel go weh ih do. I noh feel good weh ih kill di lee bwai but ah feel good that, you know what, we noh wahn he ya noh moh because dat da all he do, harass and harass and harass di youths dehn deh.”
The officer in question will remain anonymous pending the outcome of a criminal and internal police investigation. For now, Sotz is staying away from making any allegations against that officer.
“If I seh di police kill ahn maybe I di judge wrong, I noh know. Ah wahn wait til I hayah what di docta dehn wahn seh then. I noh know weh kill ahn.”
By and large, residents of Caye Caulker are in an uproar, as this is the third person on record to have suffered a similar fate at the hands of local police. Deon Green, a businessman on the island, describes the mayhem that reportedly ensued when the Gang Suppression Unit was called in.
Deon Green, Resident
“My biggest issue is the response of the Belize Police Department sending in the GSU in here last night. That unit did not come in here to calm anybody. That unit came in here and made the situation worse. I’ve seen them push people down last night. I’ve seen them point guns in ladies’ faces, they even pointed a gun in my wife’s face last night and they fired off maybe over three hundred rounds of ammunition was spent last night. That’s not no way of calming down an issue when a community is just looking for answers.”
“So we get enough, so weh happen yesterday, you know, we feel bad about it. The whole community really feel bad about it that’s why we come out and we gaan off. We gaan off really good because then dis da noh di first time dehn kill, di police kill people eena da station deh. Dis da di third time now.”
As we mentioned, separate investigations are underway to determine the cause , as well as the conditions which resulted in Sotz’s death. While there are no signs of bruises to the body, his mother admits to observing something strange on his neck.
“Bruises pan di body, no. But yeah, when di lady reach and tek out pictures, dehn lift up his head right and when dehn put ih neck like dis dahn wahn mark deh right underneath right ya. Wahn mark. Dehn sehe, because da wahn lotta dehn detained and di rest ah di persons weh detained dehn she dat da di policeman [bleep] put wahn plastic bag around his head and pressuring him fi seh weh di stolen items deh.”