What happened to Jimmy Gutierrez: Murder or Self-Defense?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 43            November 8, 2007

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Jimmy Henry Patrick Steve Montano Gutierrez, 26, deceased.

On October 31st, 2007 Jimmy Henry Patrick Steve Montano Gutierrez, 26, was shot to death a block away from his home. The man standing in front of him was Sergeant Isaias Sanchez. Many question have arisen since the incident and the biggest one is, did Sergeant Sanchez use justifiable force when he shot Jimmy? Or, is there more to the story? Here we present the initial police report, accounts from the family, Sergeant Sanchez and witness, as well as what the autopsy revealed, details on the guns and the San Juan history.

Police statement

    A press release issued by the Belize Police Department stated the following: Sometime around 10:45 p.m. of Thursday October 31st, Police received reports of an armed suspect on the beachfront near Wet Willie’s bar who was threatening a man with a gun. Police responded and were pointed in the direction that the suspect had gone whereas Police caught up with a person fitting the description near Ritchie’s Store in the San Juan area of San Pedro Town. Police then called out to said suspect at which point, suspect pulled out a handgun and pointed toward the Police. Police responded by firing several shots catching suspect in the chest area. Individual was transported to the Lion’s Clinic in San Pedro but was pronounced dead on arrival. Deceased has since been identified as 26 year old Jimmy Gutierrez of the Juan area, San Pedro Town. Police recovered from the scene near the suspect, one chrome 9mm pistol loaded with 9 live rounds of ammunition. Gutierrez’s body was transported to the KHMH where it awaits a post mortem examination and as is customary in the case of shootings by the Police, a full investigation has been launched into the incident. Internal Affairs arrived on San Pedro Town on Thursday, November 1st.

Family According to sister Sandra Gutierrez, Jimmy had left the house not too long ago to go to the shop when they heard the gunshots. As a driver for a barge company, Jimmy would often arrive home after 10:00 p.m. and so on the night in question, his mother Irma Vanegas called his cell phone to find out what time he was coming home. “My mom called him because she wanted to know if he was going to get home to eat. Or, if she should just put the food away. Jimmy told her that he was by the beach and that he would be home soon,” explained Sandra. Irma knew her son was at the beach but was uncertain what part of town he was at; she turned off the lights and went to bed. When Jimmy came home, both his parents were in bed. Sandra continues, “He came home, my mom says. They did not even turn the lights on. My dad asked him if he was going to eat. Jimmy responded that he would just go to the store and would be right back.” That was the last comment the family would hear from their son.

    Approximately 15 minutes later, gunshots rang out in the neighborhood. “My husband told me, ‘Sandra, do you hear that?’ But, we always hear gunshots back here so I told him to get back to bed.” Shortly afterwards, Sandra heard her mother’s screams telling her that it had been Jimmy, that Jimmy had been shot. “By that time, the neighbors and everyone had already gathered around. Cops were all over and my mom tried to get close to Jimmy [sobs] to make sure it was him because he was face down and that is when an officer pointed his gun at her.” No family member was allowed close to the body and once a police vehicle arrived on scene, the body was taken away. “They did not tell us where they were taking him [cries]. They just took him. We went to all the doctors on the island, thinking that maybe that is where they had taken the body but he was not there. When we came back they told us that the body was at the back of the station, where it had been since they picked him up from the scene.” The body was never taken to the San Pedro Lions Clinic as the initial police press release claims.

    After the body was positively identified by the parents, the body remained at the San Pedro Police Department where it awaited transportation to the Belize City morgue.

Sergeant Sanchez’ Account Whilst working at Wet Willy’s, Sergeant Isaias Sanchez claims that two Belizean males approached him with a complaint. The complainants stated while on the beach next to Wet Willy’s, a small argument had ensued between them and another individual who was apparently under the influence of alcohol. Harsh and explicit words were exchanged ending with the culprit telling them that he would return to kill them.

    The two men remained on the beach with the belief that the accused would not return. Shortly afterwards, the two men saw the culprit return and was holding something inside the side of his pants pocket. According to the two men, he told them, “You are lucky that there are a lot of people here or I would kill you.” Fearing for their lives, they began to slowly move toward the Wet Willy’s dock when the culprit said, “It does not matter; I will kill inside Wet Willy’s.”

    As their assailant moved away, the two men went to the Wet Willy’s dock and one of them found Sergeant Sanchez and informed him of the incident. At that time, he pointed out the man who allegedly had threatened them with a gun.

    Sergeant Sanchez immediately left his post at Wet Willy’s and once he saw the individual leave toward the San Juan Area, he ran to the San Pedro Police Department to get a bicycle to follow the alleged assailant. He caught up to the man coming off Sandpiper Street and heading towards Seaweed Street. According to Sergeant Sanchez, he informed the assailant to stop that he needed to conduct a search on his person. When the culprit refused, Sergeant Sanchez fired a warning shot to the ground. (The alleged warning shot hole on the ground was never found.) When Jimmy turned around, Sanchez says that that was when he feared for his life and shot the alleged culprit.

    The two men who had that encounter with Jimmy have gone to the San Pedro Police Department to make their statements.

Witness Accounts A witness claims that they saw Jimmy come unto Seaweed Street and saw the police man was following him. He came with no backup and was alone. She states that she was standing infront of her gate on that same street. Once the officer called out to Jimmy and he turned around, it is alleged that Sergeant Sanchez shot him. While Jimmy lay on the ground, it is alleged that Sanchez kept firing at Jimmy.

    “At first I saw bwai bwai di come and the police grabbed him and man roughed up his hand like that to try and make the police not hold him and afterwards I heard they start shooting him. The man dropped the ground and thing and after that they still continued shooting him a lot more. The man was laying down right there and they still finished him,” commented another.

    Some claim that what Jimmy was holding in his hand was a beer bottle but ASP Patt states that there was no bottle at the scene of the crime.

Autopsy The body of Jimmy went through an autopsy on Friday, November 1st, 2007 and was conducted by Dr. Mario Estradaban. The results revealed that Jimmy died due to exsanguinations because of both internal and external bleeding. Jimmy received multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, abdomen and extremities. Although there were both entry and exit wounds on the body, it was ascertained that seven were entry wounds meaning that he got shot seven times.

    During the autopsy, many tests are carried out on the body. However, according to Assistant Superintendent or Police (ASP) Sergeant Humberto Patt, a gun shot residue test was never done on the body of Jimmy Gutierrez. Any of various explosive powders used to propel projectiles from guns, especially a black mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur, is what gun powder is. This gun powder can be lifted off the hands of a person if he has fired a weapon. If Jimmy fired at Sergeant Sanchez, why was no gun powder residue test carried out on his body?

    According to G. Michael Reid, Police Press Officer, the body did not go through the gun powder test because, “He never fired a shot, he just pointed the gun but never fired.”

The guns On the night in question, October 31st, 2007, Sergeant Sanchez was using his own private licensed 9mm gun. When asked if officers are allowed to use their own guns when in uniform and on duty, ASP Patt responded that the police department does not have enough resources to equip officers. “So, if we need a gun and an officer has a licensed gun of his own, then we will use it,” he stated.

    Sergeant Sanchez’s 9mm gun has a capacity to hold 17 bullets. When the gun was retrieved from him after the incident there were only six bullets left in the cartridge. This means that Sergeant Sanchez fired 11 shots.

    At the scene of the crime, six bullets were retrieved by officers, one was found by a witness and three other bullets were found by family members. One of the bullets missed its marked and flew towards an apartment complex. One of the tenants stated that he was sleeping at the time of the incident. He was awoken from his slumber when something stung his face and upon inspection he notice that what had hit his face were wood splinters. A stray bullet had found its way to his bed head were it lodged itself, inches from his face.

    The alleged gun that Jimmy held was found in the bushes, several feet from where his body lay. According to eye witnesses, a lady officer, picked up the gun without using gloves, making that evidence inadmissible in court. ASP Patt commented that he was unaware of that fact, “all officers are trained and whenever evidence is collected gloves are used. When I came to the police department, gloves were used when handling the gun. That, I can be certain of.”

    Jimmy’s suspected gun was put through initial testing at the San Pedro Police Department. Initial tests revealed that the gun was a licensed 9mm weapon (Police have not revealed who it was licensed to). The gun had a capacity to hold 15 rounds, however it had eight bullets in the chamber and one was loaded. Further testing revealed that the gun in question had no fingerprints on it. According to Patt both guns were sent to Belize City for further analysis.

History Family members state that Jimmy had had a run in with police officers a few years ago. “They took him in and beat him up so bad. They did not charge him for anything and refused him a visit to the doctor,” claims Laura, sister of the deceased.

    Residents of the San Juan Area exclaimed that officers are always in the area harassing people. They do admit that illegal activity occurs there but that officers have moved past doing their work and moved to disrespect. Rene Franco commented, “The officers have to do their job, we respect them, but don’t come and kill people for nothing. This young boy who dead, Jimmy, everybody feels it back here. You know? Because Jimmy is a hard working man and he helps out everybody back here. The man works on the barge and when he needs extra help he comes back here and looks for us so we can go work with him and they will come and kill him here for nothing.”

    ASP Humberto Patt commented the following, “I would not say they are being harassed. The only way they are being harassed is if they are involved in illegal activities because if you are a person living in San Juan, you are honestly and not involved in any illegal activities, you are not going to be harassed by the police.”

    On February 12th, 2004, 23-year-old Leroy Pilgrim was fatally shot when on-duty Police Constable Burton Caliz tried to arrest him. The incident occurred at the San Juan Area, as well. At the time, police claimed he had a prohibited firearm.

    After being initially charged with manslaughter (the charge was upgraded to murder and then later reduced to manslaughter once more) Caliz was finally tried. In the Supreme Court, after a deliberation of approximately four hours, the eight jury members returned with a seven to one guilty verdict.

    Whatever occurred the night in question, what remains is the fact that a 26-year-old’s life was terminated. Family members state that they will work hard to make sure that justice is served.

    Sergeant Sanchez remains on active duty at the San Pedro Police Department and ASP Patt states that that decision came by recommendations and directives by the Police Commissioner. The file has been prepared and witness accounts are being collected, both against police account and some for Sergeant Sanchez’s account, and has been delivered to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further investigations and to decide whether Sergeant Sanchez used justified force on October 31st, 2007.

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