Drug war claims three lives

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 5            February 5, 2009

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James Swan

Eduardo Gutierrez

John Paul Saldivar

Eric Swan

Eric Swan's boat "Stinner" has been in the shop for about two weeks.

The crime scene investigators were on site where the shallow grave was found.

The shallow grave contained the bodies of James Swan and Eduardo Gutierrez.

On Thursday, January 29th, 2009, after a morning of fishing with his brother-in-law, Eduardo “Brahlee” Gutierrez left his home at 1:00 p.m. to cash a check at the bank. When he learned that the bank could not cash the check he informed his brother-in-law that he would instead head north to the resort that had issued the check and find out how to remedy the situation. That was the last time that Gutierrez was heard from by his family.

    On Thursday night, Elena Edwards wondered where her son James Swan was. He had left his home early in the afternoon and had not returned. On Friday night, she claims that she stood by the dock where her sons parked their boats at the end of their day of fishing and saw her son’s boat from a distance. In the boat was Elena’s other son, Eric Swan and he was being shot at. Next to her son’s skiff was a Police boat and officers onboard were the ones who had shot at Swan.

    Officer in Charge (OIC) of the San Pedro detachment, Dennis Arnold, stated that he received a call via his cell phone at approximately 6:00 p.m. on Friday, stating that gunshots had been heard in the Rocky Point Area. Information received stated that there had been three boats in the area at the time that the shots rang out and one of the boats was positively identified as that being of Eric Swan, fisherman of the San Juan Area. OIC Arnold rounded up a contingency consisting of Belize Defense Force soldiers, Anti Drug Unit officers as well as San Pedro Police Department officers and headed to the area located about 15 miles North of San Pedro Town. En route to their destination, by the Boca del Rio Bridge, OIC Arnold explains that they came upon a boat, white in color with green and black stripes on the side. The 150 HP Yamaha boat was being captained at the time by Eric Swan. He was ordered to stop, but he refused. Keeping their spot light on the boat, officers continued their pursuit. Shots were fired at the engine causing the boat to stop. A second individual on the boat stood up with what appeared to be a firearm in his hand pointed at the direction of police. Fearing for their lives, officers fired at the person with the firearm. This individual then threw what appeared to be a gun into the water, jumped overboard and swam towards the mangroves where he made good his escape.

    Upon reaching the vessel, police found Eric Swan inside with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the upper right leg, and a graze to the buttock. Also found in the vessel were, six (6) live 7.62 rounds of ammunition, camouflage pants and a sea worthiness certificate in the name of Eric Swan. Swan was transported to the San Pedro Poly Clinic and later flown to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.

    In an interview with Swan, The San Pedro Sun discovered that his boat has actually been in repair at Captain Shark’s Boatyard located in the DFC Subdivision. The boat, named Stinner, has been there for the past two weeks since Swan himself took it in. “I was with my brother on Thursday when we were kidnapped. Due to the circumstances and the situation, we were separated. On Friday, one of the kidnappers was bringing me home to torture my family. That is when the cops shot at us.” According to OIC Arnold, the boat that Swan drove that night was indeed registered to him [Swan]. As to the kidnapping, Arnold explained that they are investigating all possible angles in the incidents.

    Officers never thought that Friday night’s shooting would be the first in a chain of incidents that would rock San Pedro Town in a way that it had never been before. Later in the said evening, Joseph Smith, a 31-year-old carpenter of DFC Subdivision reported to police that he was held up at gun point by persons fitting the description of the same vessel as that of Swan’s, in the Rocky Point area. The individuals took away his two tanks of fuel leaving him drifting in his skiff but he had managed to reach ashore safely.

    OIC Arnold explained that he received yet another phone call from an individual stating that he believed that his friend had been shot in the Rocky Point Area and that he suspected him to still be alive. Officers decided to try to make it to Rocky Point that same night. The contingency returned to their boat and headed north. However, upon reaching the Boca del Rio Bridge, OIC Arnold explained that he saw individuals crossing the bridge whom he recognized as gang members of the George Street Crew from Belize City. Immediately, the police skiff was parked and officers stormed the bridge and back up was called. Everyone in the vicinity was taken to the police station and through a process of elimination, innocent civilians were released. In the end, eight individuals were detained and on them was a total of $33,000 US dollars. When questioned by officers as to the reason of having that much cash, they commented that they were on the island to purchase a Polaris vehicle. After 48 hours they were released.

    Officers decided to hold off any further search on North Ambergris Caye that Friday night until the morning since it was too late to carry out any type of operation in that area.

    At about 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, Brionne Swift, 29-year-old of Boca Del Rio Area, arrived at the San Pedro Police Department and reported that he believed that his friend John Paul Saldivar had been shot the day before at around 4:00 p.m. As a result, police visited an area about 16 miles North of Ambergris Caye. There they discovered the body of a Hispanic male person. He was lying face up on the shoreline and had gunshot wounds to the head, the upper left leg, and the lower right leg along with numerous bruises all over the body. Family members positively identified the body as that of John Paul Saldivar.

    Officers conducted a search in the area near to the body and discovered a 9mm Glock pistol along with a magazine with 13 live 9mm rounds, two black warm caps adapted as masks, a flash light and a cellular phone.

    Police investigations continued as they tried to fit in all the pieces of the puzzle. Serious questions remained and officers wondered whether and how Swan was tied into the Saldivar murder. Questioning a number of individuals and based on information that they received, on Monday at approximately 4:20 p.m., another contingency was dispatched to an area a mile away from the Rocky Point location. Police arrived at the location and carried out a search. When nothing was found, OIC Arnold pondered on calling off the search, however as they continued their search they arrived at an area that smelled appalling and had vultures circling the spot. Taking a closer look at the area, they observed a blood trail which they followed and led them to a spot where a shallow grave had been dug. Digging into the sand, officers discovered two bodies, half clothed, lying facing each other. Because of the state of decomposition of the bodies, they remained in their grave until Tuesday afternoon. That day family members positively identified the bodies as being those of Eduardo “Brahlee” Gutierrez and James Swan, brother of Eric Swan. Dr. Mario Estradaban, forensic doctor, was transported to the scene of the crime where a post mortem examination was carried out on site. The results revealed that Gutierrez had been beaten to death and that his liver was ruptured. As per Swan, he had two gunshot wounds, one to the left side of the head and one to the right side of the chest; he also presented bruising on his body.

    Investigating officers have evidence to suggest all murders to be drug related. On site of the double murder, two black nylon bags were found. These bags were consistent with the wet drop of cocaine which is alleged landed on the shores of Ambergris Caye, two weeks ago.

    Three individuals have been arrested in connection to the murders. Officers would not state which murder incident they were tied to but they strongly believe that all three homicides are connected. The three men behind bars are Brionne Swift, 29; Alex Soler, 22; and Victor Garnett, 27. They have been jointly charged for murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of Gutierrez and Swan.

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