In front of his family in Santa Familia Village, Cayo District, the shooting death of off-duty Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldier Jessie Escobar, 29, has shocked and enraged Belizeans across the country. The gunman, another soldier, is attached to a joint police patrol. The initial police report stated that on Sunday, September 5th, Escobar aggressed the officers with pint bottles. Still, after the release of a surveillance video, it was confirmed that there was no such aggression by the deceased. The image of him shot in front of his wife and young daughter has been condemned by government officials and the Commissioner of Police (ComPol), who described the use of force unjustifiable.
According to an official report leaked, Police Constable Juan Carlos Morales reported that he was heading the patrol, along with Pte. R. Valencia and Cpl. R. Alcoser. While attempting to detain some men at an establishment called Branch Mouth Stop and Shop in Santa Familia, for not wearing their masks properly and public drinking, an altercation ensued. The report read that one of the men tried to throw a pint bottle at the officers. A warning shot was then fired. Morales continued in the report to say that Escobar then approached Pte. R. Valencia and threatened to take away his weapon. When Escobar tried to do so, Valencia fired a single shot hitting Escobar. The note also adds that people outside the establishment started throwing bottlers at the joint patrol after Escobar was shot. However, the footage released on Monday clearly shows no altercation and no hurling of bottles. Before Escobar was fatally shot, he took one step towards Valencia, holding a cup in his right hand and extending his left hand. After he was shot, the officers ordered those outside the shop to get down on the ground while Escobar’s wife and daughter cried over his body.
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WARNING! This video contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.
The home of the police officer, Juan Carlos Morales, 35, was burnt down last night in Santa Familia, Cayo. This stems back to the shooting death of Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldier, Jessie Escobar, 29. Surveillance video shows Morales shot and killed a soldier, Jessie Escobar, infront of his wife and child in Santa Familia.
From the Leader of the Opposition The soldier that executed unarmed off duty BDF Jessie Escobar in front of his wife and children should be arrested and charged with murder at once. The video evidence makes clear this was a deliberate, heinous act of murder. The authorities must move posthaste to deliver justice for BDF Soldier Jessie Escobar, his family, the Santa Familia Cayo community and the Nation. Deepest sympathies to the Escobar family. Hon. Shyne Barrow Leader of the Opposition House of Representatives MP for Mesopotamia UDP
Re: Off-duty BDF soldier shot dead by joint police patrol
#552525 09/07/2104:51 AM09/07/2104:51 AM
Tonight, the village of Santa Familia in the Cayo District is outraged and mourning a well-known and well-liked villager who was shot and killed by one of his fellow BDF soldiers. He's 29-year-old Private Jessie Escobar, who has served in the military for over 8 years.
Last night at around 7:00, he, his common-law wife, their young daughter, and 2 friends went to the Branch Mouth Stop and Shop Store. While they were there, an inter-agency team from the Village Police Station, which consisted of 2 BDF soldiers and a police officer, was conducting evening patrols in the village. It is unclear why the two sides ended up in a heated dispute, but the police account is that one of Escobar's friends wasn't wearing his mask properly.
That dispute quickly escalated, and when Escobar exited the store, he found his colleagues and the officers with weapons drawn at his companions. It appears that he may have had intentions of trying to de-escalate tensions, but the police say that the group's hostility at law enforcement ramped up, and he advanced on them in a threatening manner.
It ended in a second when one of his BDF colleagues shot him in the chest, a fatal injury. Our news team was in Santa Familia today to try to understand how this dispute over a facemask turned deadly within minutes. Daniel Ortiz has that story:
Video footage from the surveillance camera system at Branch Mouth Stop & Shop in Santa Familia captures the minutes before the BDF soldier Jessie Escobar was shot and killed by a lawman. The first thing that is immediately apparent is the high level of hostility that the armed officers displayed toward him and his companions.
A first shot is fired, and in his statement the officer responsible said that it was a warning shot. The microphone picks up the moment when the weapon was readied to discharge bullets.
Police Officer "Move from "f-------" ya."
Man "Noh "f-------" put no "f-------" gun pan me bwai."
There are varying accounts about what happened shortly after that. In his official account, the police officer claims that Escobar advanced on them. His narrative paints him and the 2 BDF soldiers backing him up as lawmen showing restraint against a group of aggressors. But, the video shows Escobar walking forward with a cup in his hand. Armed with only that, he's hardly any threat to the officers, but then, suddenly, he is fatally shot.
Police Officer "I wah buss yoh lee "r---" yoh noh."
It happens in literally the blink of an eye, but you can that after he made a few steps, the police officer to the right of your screen, swings his weapon toward Escobar. It appears that he fires a bullet more in the direction of his feet. You can see the muzzle flash of his service weapon, and the smoke. The BDF soldier behind the cop appears to fire a shot from his assault rifle. It is unclear which bullet injures Escobar, but the police account is that the fatal shot was fired by the BDF soldier who was immediately backing him up. The officer doesn't appear to grasp yet that Escobar's life is already fading, and he shouts callous words to Escobar's companions.
Police Officer "Yoh noh wah advance into me at all."
"Get on the ground."
Police Commissioner Chester Williams addressed the media on the incident, and he presented the tidy account of this messy scene, as told by the officers involved.
Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police "What our investigation so far is revealing is that the police officer attached to Santa Familia, along with 2 BDF who work there with him - It's like a composite patrol - were conducting patrols within the village, and they went to a store. While at the store, they saw a group of men coming, one of whom was not wearing his mask properly. He was told by the police officer to pull his mask up, which he did. And apparently, another person who was there at the store began to engage in an argument with the police and the BDF. That argument quickly escalated, and firearms were drawn by the police and the BDF. The police officer subsequently fired one warning shot, and according to them, the male person continued to advance toward the BDF soldier, and that was when the BDF fired one single shot, which caught the individual in the left [side of his] chest. The person fell to the ground and (sighs) to his death."
Perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of Jessie Escobar's fatal shooting by his colleague is the fact that his common-law wife and his daughter, who is either 2 or 3-years-old, witnessed the violence that ended his life.
One eyewitness told the press that in her opinion, Escobar was no threat to the armed lawmen.
Voice of: Eyewitness "His daughter just started to cry to see her daddy there. And the daughter said, 'Mataron a mi Papi Chulo!' Do you know? She is just 2 years [old] to see those things. I am in shock, and I imagine this poor little girl there. I don't know, but we just want justice."
Police Officer "Next baxxa! Next Baxxa!"
Police Officer "Yoh noh wah advance into me at all."
Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police "It is disturbing. Some of the comments used prior to and after the shooting are damning, and those are things that we are looking into. The file is being compiled and will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions' Office for guidance as to how we are going to deal with the matter."
And what charge will Jessie Escobar's shooter likely face?
Reporter "Would the family be justified in calling for a murder charge for the person who fatally shot their loved one?"
Chester Williams "The decision as to what charge or charges are to be levied will be one that will be done by the Director of Public Prosecutions, having seen the evidence. It is not a matter of my opinion. It is a matter of what the evidence dictates."
The Commissioner DID offer his opinion on whether or not the use of lethal force was necessary.
Chester Williams "In my humble opinion, it is not justified. I believe that the force was, to some extent, excessive, but like I said before. It is a matter for the DPP to decide. It doesn't mean that because the force used is not justified, [it] simply means that it is murder. Unjustified force could also mean manslaughter. It could also be manslaughter by negligence. So, I am just making that point clear."
Whatever the outcome of this case, Escobar's loved ones are joined by the close-knit community of Santa Familia which grieves his sudden and violent killing.
Isella Lina Manzanero - Aunt of the Deceased "My sister said that when she went running to see her son, they pointed at her with the gun. Why? They already shot [him], and they were pointing at her. That is what hurt the most. They already killed the son. My nephew is so humble."
Jessie’s BDF Brother
While we were in Santa Familia Village, we caught up with Jessie's older brother, Erwin, who is also a BDF soldier. The community members were already making burial preparations, and today, Erwin spoke with us at the community's burial site. He told us that his brother is not the type to aggravate his fellow lawmen. He said that he does not believe the narrative being presented by the officers involved that he and his companions aggressed them.
Here's how he explained why:
Erwin Escobar, Brother of Deceased "Jessie was a very cool guy, he is a funny guy. From growing up he likes to give jokes and being around friends and doing all kind of stuff. He wasn't like a saint, but Jessie socializes with friends and he not somebody that would look for trouble. When I got this news yesterday, I was surprised that that happened. The first thing I read on certain media that Jessie was aggressive and he came with pint bottle and stuff and after that when I got to know the real truth about it, it was nothing like that. The police officers that were here - they came not with manners, they could come with that brutality, aggression and dictate you to do this and that, they never talk to you like humans. I was surprised that it was a BDF soldier, knowing that he is a BDF soldier too, because they know, they both knew. So I was very shocked when that happened."
Erwin told us that his brother, Jessie looked up to him, and that's why he joined the BDF, to also serve his country.
This evening, the BDF sent out a press release which says, quote, "The Commander, Belize Defence Force, officers, and soldiers extend their deepest condolences to the family of â€¦Private Jessie Escobar. Private Jessie Escobar enlisted in the Belize Defence Force on 08th October 2012 He was serving in the Light Engineer Company at Price Barracks, Ladyville, and has completed over eight years of service." End quote.
Jesse Slaying, Frame By Frame
Turning back to the situation in Santa Familia, we've seen a leaked statement on the Belize News Network from the police officer attached to the Village's police station. He was part of the team of lawmen who confronted Jessie Escobar, who was fatally injured in a questionable shooting.
Well, he reported to his police superiors that in that incident, he and his BDF colleagues were about to leave the Branch Mouth Stop and Shop store, when their attention was drawn to 5 men, a woman, and a minor. He then recognized one of the people in the group as Jessie Escobar, his cousin. The officer says that the men had beer pints in their hands, and they had their face masks below the mouth area. According to the officer, they weren't wearing their masks properly.
The officer says that he confronted them about the masks and public drinking, which is an offense. The officer says that the men attempted to defy them about the mask issue, and at some point, the civilians attempted to stone them with those pints bottles.
He claims that he pulled out his firearm and attempted to fire a warning shot, but the firearm didn't go off. Video footage indicates that the gun did discharge.
The officer then goes on to claim that the civilians cursed them out for pulling the gun, and threatened that they would take the weapons away. The officer also claims that the men reached for one of the BDF soldiers' M4 carbine. He says the soldier responded and fired a single shot. He claims that he saw when Escobar fell to the ground, he went to check on him, and that's when he saw a pint bottle land near him. According to the officer, the civilians started stoning them.
Interestingly, none of that is seen on the store's video surveillance camera, which caught most of the dispute on tape. So, we did a frame-by-frame comparison to the officer's account, and here's that story:
Officers appear to be speaking with a group of men and a woman.
36 seconds after the video begins an indecipherable exchange occurs, after which, one of the officers says "weh you seh now? I wah wop out uno lee (EXPLETIVE)" and motions with a long object, probably a baton, as though he's prepared to swing it.
At this point one of the officers takes a step back and brings a rifle from its resting position behind his back and cocks it. So far none of the men to whom the officers are speaking appear belligerent or violent.
Jessie Escobar enters the frame, apparently he was inside the store until now, at 45 seconds.
Shortly after, the officer who had previously threathened the men with the baton, fires a shot into the air and orders "move from (EXPLETIVE) ya." and hits one of the men in the face with the baton. It's at this point that the men begin advancing towards the officers.
The men to whom the officers were speaking now tell the officers not to push them, "No di push no body" with one saying, "noh di [#%!] push noâ€¦woman"
The exchange becomes heated, Jessie Escobar steps towards the officer with the rifle, with both hands to his side and no attempt to grab the gun,
One officer shoots a shot into the ground near Escobar's feet and it appears that, SIMULTANEOUSLY the officer with the rifle fired directly at Escobar's chest.
Jessie Escobar falls to the ground and one of the officer's exclaims "move from (EXPLETIVE) ya! Next Boxer, Next Boxer!"
"No di advance into me at all, good"
At 7:18, the officers order the shop to close. and order the remaining people to the ground.
Fires In The Aftermath Of Cop Killing
Information reaching 7News that the Santa Familia home of the police officer in question, 35-year-old Juan Carlos Morales, was burnt down a few hours later. It is believed that Morales' home was destroyed as an act of retaliation for his involvement in the incident in which Jessie Escobar was shot and killed.
Tonight, the public is outraged after a soldier of the Belize Defense Force was fatally shot in front of his wife and daughter on Sunday night. A video of how the entire incident went down has now gone viral making the family even angrier and hungry for justice. Reporter Vejea Alvarez headed out west to see what he could find out on the incident.
Re: Off-duty BDF soldier shot dead by joint police patrol
#552549 09/08/2104:56 AM09/08/2104:56 AM
Civil Disobedience in Santa Familia after Soldier’s Death
Today, a News Five crew was back in Santa Familia Village where residents came out in huge numbers to express their outrage over the shooting death of B.D.F. soldier Jessie Escobar. The public protest started as early as six-thirty on Monday night when the main entrance to the village near the bus stop was almost impassable after tires were set on fire as residents chanted for justice. Today, that chorus resounded even as the Commissioner of Police and a team of officers visited the village to quell the upheaval.
Duane Moody, Reporting
It was a fiery night in Santa Familia Village on Monday. Residents were up in arms, furious about the shooting death of one of their own at the hands of lawmen.
That same conviction continued into today when residents gathered in front of Branch Mouth Stop and Shop Store, the location where off-duty B.D.F. soldier Jessie Escobar was shot and killed by another soldier Private R. Valencia, who was part of a joint foot patrol in the village.
Residents and family members are calling for justice; that a murder charge be levelled against the officer who fatally wounded Escobar.
Noreen Escobar, Mother of Deceased
“He promised me front of everybody that he will make justice and I am satisfied with that because that is no manslaughter. That is murder. He promised me and I feel good that he will do something because he is the boss of it. The worst thing is that they killed my son in front of my lee baby. That hurt me a lot. Now, my lee baby when she see a police or B.D.F. she start to cry and she say, I am a afraid of that. You ask her where is her daddy; she say the B.D.F. kill my pa.”
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
“I decided to come this morning because I think that as the commissioner of police, I owe the mother, Miss Escobar, some explanation as to what we are doing to give her that assurance that she may be seeking. I am hoping likewise to meet with the common-law or the wife to also give her that assurance.”
It’s an emotional time for the residents, because there were two other men along with Escobar, his common-law wife and their two-year-old daughter. Among them was Cordelia Landero’s son, who says he too would have been shot if he did not get on the ground.
Cordelia Landero, Resident, Santa Familia Village
“They pointed the gun to my son also, but luckily they missed it. They miss it because my son kneel down and that’s why they missed the gun on him. But from Wednesday, they fired at my son; I heard it. I was on my bed when I heard two shots on Wednesday that same week and I just feel something on my heart. And the next day I found out that they fired the gun to my son and he’s only twenty-one years. They threatened my son to death and told my son, if he said something, they are going to kill him. And that’s why I am talking as a mother because I am frustrated, I am tired; enough is enough.”
Commissioner of Police Chester Williams says that the video and comments made by the police and B.D.F. will reviewed by the D.P.P. to determine what charge will be levelled against the lawmen.
“From what we saw on the video, it is an unjustified shooting. There is nothing that we can do or say to try and justify that and any right-thinking person will come to that conclusion. We will do our part and I understand what the people of the village are calling for – they want justice – and as the principal law enforcement agency, it is our duty to properly investigate to make sure that the people get what they are seeking.”
“Requisite intent to kill – is that something that can be established? I know you are not pre-empting the D.P.P., but just looking at the base facts with your knowledge of the law.”
“I would look at the comments uttered before the shooting, the actions during the shooting and the comments after the shooting and I’ll leave it at that.”
The case file has already been forwarded to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for a determination to be made on what charge or charges will be levelled. Duane Moody for News Five.
Disciplinary Action to be Taken against Officer Morales
Police Constable 1189 Juan Carlos Morales was the police officer leading the joint patrol with B.D.F. on the tragic Sunday night. But as it turns out, he is not even a trained police officer. ComPol Chester Williams confirmed to the media today that Morales just recently assimilated into the Belize Police Department as a constable, having worked as a special constable for years. But is this lack of professional development and community policing skill what led to the mishandling of the situation which subsequently ended with the killing of Escobar?
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
“I fully agree that the actions of the police go totally against what we expect of our officers. And I have instructed Mister Serano that the officer is to be charged for act of prejudice to good order and discipline in respect to his comments before and after the shooting. There was also a civilian who was assaulted by the police with a baton; the police will also be charged in respect of that matter. Certainly, the action of the police one could reasonably argue exacerbated that situation to where it went.”
According to the commissioner, over one hundred special constables have been given regulation numbers due their performance. He says Morales had demonstrated the ability to perform as a police officer and was recommended by his Officer in Command.
Officers and their False Statements
But even scarier is the fact that Officer Morales appears to have blatantly lied in his statement about what transpired on the night of the fatal shooting. Were it not for the surveillance footage that statement would have been the basis for the investigation – a misrepresentation of the facts of the incident. Viewers may recall that in that leaked document, PC Morales claimed that the joint foot patrol was basically under attack and that led to the fatal shooting. The video however showed that the deceased was unarmed and carried only a cup in his hand. This supports the distrust and lack of confidence that residents have had in law enforcement, so ComPol Chester Williams was asked about what this means for him.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
“Thank God we have video now. Police officers are told this every time you know. Everything we do in public, it is being watched. And if it is that you know that you are being watched and you still display a conduct, then it is on you. Yes, in terms of the statement that I see circulating is not signed so in terms of authenticity it is an issue. But let me say that it is somewhat consistent with the signed one. And so the fact that the officer lied in that statement, it is something that we are also looking at internally because under our disciplinary rules, it would fall under an act of prejudice to good order and discipline as well.”
“Will this be grounds for him to be taken out of the police department?”
“Of course he will be interdicted after being charged, yes. We need it to be made loud and clear that once we find out that they lie in a statement, an official statement that forms part of an investigation, that they will be dealt with. And hopefully that is going to serve as deterrence to others who may want to do the same.”
BDF soldiers, Private Raheem Valencio, Private Ramon Alcoser and Police Constable Juan Morales are expected to appear in the Belmopan Magistrates Court this afternoon to face charges surrounding the shooting death of 29-year-old, Jessie Escobar. Valencio has been charged with murder while Alcoser and Morales have been charged with "Perverting the course of justice". We have also learnt that all three officers will be discharged from duty. The three law enforcement officers have come under immense scrutiny over the last two days after a video emerged showing what the Police Commissioner has dubbed as an unjustifiable use of force resulting in the death of Escobar.
Adviser of the Santa Familia Village Council shares how the villagers are feeling Adviser of the Santa Familia Village Council shares how the villagers are feeling after the shooting death of Jessie Escobar. Shelan Humes - Adviser, Santa Familia Village Council
Jessie Escobar's Wife Asks For Compensation Of 250k
And while Escobar's mother said yesterday that she would be satisfied with a murder charge, his common-law wife is taking a step further. Janine Pott has retained former PM Dean Barrow as her attorney, and, in a letter addressed to the Minister of National Defence and Border Security, he is asking for compensation in the sum of $250,000 - a quarter million dollars.
According to the letter, the Barrow and Williams law firm is representing both Pott and her 3-year-old daughter, Jesslyn Escobar, who witnessed the killing.
It states, quote, "We believe you, as Minister of Defence, and the entire government of Belize, will want to make as much amends as possible to Janine and Jesslyn for the fatal wrong done by Private Valencio. While nothing can compensate for the loss of their husband and father, at the very least, GOB should be willing to confer a financial statement upon Janine and Jesslyn for deprivation ofâ€¦their only means of support." End quote.
The letter goes on to say that various matters were taken into account before coming up with the total sum, including the age of the deceased, his salary, the age of his infant daughter, the age of his common-law wife, and the horrible trauma and shock they suffered when they witnessed the tragedy.
They're hoping the government will agree to settle expeditiously.
And switching now to crime news, There was national outrage last week when Belizean saw the frame-by-frame sequence of events that led to Jesse Escobar's death. It was a senselessly violent incident that shed even more light on the failings of law enforcement training and left COMPOL Chester Williams facing serious questions of credibility and legitimacy of the Police Department.
And on Tuesday when the COMPOL entered the village he found a hostile environment that would intimidate any man, we asked him about it this morning when he appeared on Sunup on 7.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police "From the time when the shooting happened, we could have seen that the tension within the village had increased tremendously and rightfully so, I don't think that any right-thinking person would not have been outraged based on what we saw on the video footage and even though I was not privy or I had not seen all those footages prior, I end up seeing the one from inside for the first time on Channel 7 andI was even more taking a back because it shows that there was some degree of greetings or acquaintance between the police, the BDF and the deceased. So which means that they knew each other. So, I cannot understand how could such a greeting had escalated to the level where someone end up getting killed. Nonetheless, what shocked me the most was the fact that the young man was killed in the presence of his wife and his 2-year-old child. I don't think that no level of therapy will be able to help that child to overcome the pain and grief of being there to have witness her father being killed. But at the end of the day while the police wanted to engage the villagers, because I was call and they said boss will we engage? I said to them no, we are not going to engage. We have to understand the pain that these people are going through and while yes, what they are doing is wrong, I don't think that engaging them would have been the right thing to do, because then you would have had a group that was so riled up and would have been ready for anything, they would not have backed down because they see police coming and that surely would have resulted into a clash between them and the police and I'm certain that lives would have been lost."