60-year-old, Nestor Vasquez Junior passed away on Saturday night just before ten o’clock. Vasquez was admitted due to stab injuries he sustained inside a police holding cell at the Queen Street Police Station. He was being detained for common assault and was sharing a cell with Collin Francis who is known as a mental patient and who had only just stabbed Nurse Augustina Elijio at the Port Loyola Polyclinic, hours prior. The Vasquez family was enraged at the how the incident unfolded and had contracted the legal services of Attorney, Leslie Mendez, threatening further action if deemed necessary. That letter went out on Friday evening and by the following day, Nestor Vasquez Jr. had died. Commissioner of Police had issued a statement on Friday indicating that an internal and a criminal investigation was being launched and that several officers were placed on half-pay interdiction, including, the Executive Duty Officer, Shawn Walton, Sergeant of Police, Edward Pitterson and Police Constable Bernard Cayetano. Love News spoke to Jules Vasquez and his sister, Director of Restore Belize’s Mary Vasquez spoke about the love of their brother.
Jules Vasquez – Brother of Nestor Vasquez: “I am certain there was only one Nestor Vasquez Jr. in Belize. He was unlike anyone else and anyone who knows him can say that he is one of the most unforgettable persons in this society. He was in many ways a bearing person, often times too much so. He was famous for jumping bridges, motorcycle stunts, all sorts of activities that can’t be documented. I have seen him jump off a 12 ft veranda at Channel 7 to pursue someone that had done a wrong against our family. That is what I want to get to, my brother it pains me that my brother was killed when he was defenseless for whatever reason. It pains me because he is a protector and my brother has always sought to protect all of us as best he could and at all times whenever he felt that we were under threat. He died without protection; it is indicative of the culture of how we treat mental illness and how we have to deal with these cases that I had to call the police that morning. These things stay with us but he will be remembered as a warrior, spirit warrior, as a fighter and as a prisoner but someone whose only cry was for freedom. He was a physical person that wanted to be free in all things.”
Mary Vasquez – Sister of Nestor Vasquez: “In addition to what my brother Jules said about it is indicative of how we treat mentally ill persons, how we treat our most vulnerable persons, it is actually more than that, it is how we treat every citizen that comes into care that we need to access and we need to ensure that those with a duty of care cannot act with impunity. We do not want to hear nice words, we don’t want to hear about numbers of dollars invested. We need to see a difference in how our citizens strong or vulnerable are treated when they are in the care of government agencies. So this is something that is beyond just working with mental patients. We have seen many cases where other vulnerable people were children in custody on the police, in the custody of care facilities, we have seen where a whole variety of people who have not been proven guilty of anything are subject to inhumane treatment at the whim of certain officers and completely against protocol so we have to look at the whole picture to be able to protect our citizens because the government is there to care for and protect citizens, not to put us in harm’s way and not to kill us.
Jules Vasquez indicated that because his brother suffered a mental health episode, he called the police to have Nestor junior detained in order to be safe. Commissioner of Police Chester Williams said that the department accepts that the situation could have been handled better. The incarceration of the mentally disabled will be a priority area that the department will handle. In addition to disciplinary measures, the investigation results will also be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecution’s office for consideration.
Commissioner of Police Chester Williams: “The Police Department considered the actions of the police who were working the cell block as well as that of the Executive Duty Officer on duty at the time to be an act of gross negligence in that they failed to ensure that these two prisoners who both have some mental disability were kept in the same cell detained. We have our protocols that govern the cell block area and from what the investigation is showing so far, there was a clear breach of our cellblock protocol and so the officers who were on duty at that particular time have since been placed on disciplinary charges and have been interdicted from duty on half pay. I want to say this though that I think it is time that we begin to have a discussion over how the police are to treat and keep prisoners who suffer from some mental disability with a view to ensure that there is no recurrence of this incident. One of the things that I have directed my Finance officer as well as the Commander of Management Service to do is to see how we can prepare one of our cell blocks in such a way that we will be able to keep prisoners who suffer from mental disability in such a way that they will not be able to cause serious injury to themselves or others. Meaning, what we will be doing, we will be looking at other cell blocks across the region of the world to see how it is structured. It might require us padding a cell block. When I say padding I mean all the steels will be padded with some material as well as the floor to ensure that if it is that they are to slam body into it or even themselves that the pad on the cell block itself will prevent them from sustaining serious injuries. The officers did learn about the fight in the cell block, they rushed quickly out of the area but by the time they got there it was too late. Our thing is that we have certain protocols in place and those protocols were breached. As such the officers who were working must be held accountable.
Jose Sanchez: “ While the protocol would be not to have two persons with mental issues on the same block, knowing the case of Mr. Collins that he inexplicably put a woman in critical condition, would it then had been safe for anyone with a mental condition or not to be in the same cell as him?”
Commissioner of Police Chester Williams: “He should not have been kept with anybody. The police officers know or ought to have known that his condition was such that he should not have been kept with any other person in a cell block.”
The Vasquez family is hoping for more than just compensation. Jules Vasquez says that they hope the treatment or detention of people experiencing breaks can be treated without being subjected to situations that can cause physical harm to them or others. The Vasquez family was given a tour of the detention center area of the Eastern Division otherwise known as the Queen Street Police station this afternoon. In addition to seeing cell number two, where Nestor Vasquez was forced into a cell with Collin Francis, they were given an opportunity to view the police department’s video footage of the area outside the cell.
Jules Vasquez: “My brother had an acute episode, he is mentally ill and he has been having an acute episode for about a week. He displayed a certain behavior that wasn’t safe for our family. I had to ask the police to detain him on Monday because regrettably, detention is the only way many mentally ill people can access the care they need to calm them down. That is what he got on Monday, they took him to the Port Loyola clinic where Nurse Elijio treated him. On Tuesday Nurse Elijio would become a victim of the person who eventually gave the injuries that killed my brother. My brother died at 9:40 on Saturday night, he died of brain trauma, he was beaten mercilessly to his head, his face was crushed and a post mortem this morning found that he died of blunt force trauma. He had no injuries below his neck, it was all concentrated on his head which was literally disassembled. He had been mauled, was the word that I had used and the post mortem was conducted today. What happened is that eventually his brain could just not tell his organs to work anymore, his lungs shut down and his heart shut down. They had him on ventilator but I have to say the best of the staff at the ICU, they worked with extraordinary precision and perseverance to keep my brother alive. He was put initially in the juvenile cell which was a break of the protocol. From the surveillance footage, we have seen he seemed to be calm in there but the officers on duty reported that he came on as a threat in there. Then at 12:20 the officers on duty made a critical error that cost my brother his life. They put him in the same cell with Mr. Collin Francis who was awaiting charges for the attempted murder of nurse Elijio. The first thing is Mr. Francis should not have been in that cell because he should have been taken to the Court from that morning and if not he should have gone into the prison bus at one o’clock so he should not have been there when they put my brother in there at two o’clock. When they were putting him in there at two he resisted because they were taking him out of a cell with juveniles and putting him into a cell, he didn’t know the person. You can see on the video that they are pushing him in the cell and he is resisting. Regrettably, they put him in that cell and surely thereafter, we don’t know the exact time frame because there is no camera in the cell; there is a camera in the corridor. The 28 year old Mr. Francis who seemed to be going through a psychotic episode and I say that based on his actions with Nurse Elijio mercilessly beat my brother; a sixty year old man, very physically fit and strong man but a man who had just come off sixty five hours of detention and a man who had a very big gash on his head. We don’t know how he got it, it may have happened in the custody of police which has to also be investigated, he was mercilessly beaten in that cell. We know that the officers put a man in there when Mr. Colin Francis was in that cell alone and he was in there alone for a reason. They pushed my brother in there, he resisted twice and they pushed him in there. There were other cells available. I do believe their motive was oh you want to play crazy good play crazy with him, he is psychotic and we know what happened next. They failed in their duty of care, they put my brother deliberately I believe in harm’s way. The Commissioner has assured us full transparency and has given us I believe unprecedented transparency but that cannot be the end of it for our brother, for our family. The critical thing is that my brother’s death cannot have been in vain, he cannot have suffered this excruciating end for no reason, there must be alternatives to the access treatment, to the care and management of mentally ill persons because for them to end up here is symptomatic of how badly broken our system is. At the end of the day, it is a terrible issue but it is terribly true, how you treat the least of us is indicative of the best of us so we have to raise the levels, standards, and expectations of care for mentally ill persons.”
The Vasquez family hopes to speak to other people who were detained in the adjacent cells to find out what was said since they believe there was no urgency on behalf of the officers to assist their loved one. The department has given the Vasquez family a list of all the persons who were detained at the time.