Criminal and internal disciplinary action are being taken against Sergeant Evaristo Cobb, the police officer, who assaulted Love News reporter Vejea Alvarez. Alvarez was in Orange Walk Town with the intent to cover a protest by nurses at the Northern Regional Hospital. Alvarez attempted to speak with someone in charge at the NRH, but before he could do that, he was harassed by the hospital’s security officer, and later by a group of police officers led by Sergeant Cobb. Cobb forcibly removed Alvarez from the compound, and subsequently pushed him and accused him of assaulting a police officer. Cobb’s attack on Alvarez continued as he hit Alvarez to his chest and lied to his commanding officer about it. Police Commissioner Chester Williams says that charges will be laid against Sergeant Cobb and such actions by police officers cannot be countenanced.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “I saw the video and I see nothing wrong that the young man did. They met on the hospital compound, he was removed for whatever reason I don’t know and you would know Rene and Troy that since the protest began with these unions we have been having a hands off approach in terms of exercising restraint. If we can do that with the protesters then why can’t we do that for the reporters who are covering these events. Notwithstanding that though there was no protest at the hospital so the young man went there to do whatever business he went and he also should have been handled like any ordinary person right ? So I had gotten Professional Standards Branch involved and they had met with the young man, they have recorded his statement, he has requested that he wants the matter to be dealt with internally and so the Professional Standards Branch will be laying charges against the police officer concerned. So I want the public to know we are in no way going to condone the wrong that the police officer did. From what I saw the police officer was wrong and it must be dealt with.”
Rene Villanueva Sr, CEO, RSV Limited: Our reporter was on a public owned compound right ? The hospital is owned by the Government of Belize.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Yes he has all right to be there.”
Rene Villanueva Sr, CEO, RSV Limited: So as a citizen of Belize he has rights as long as he’s in order to approach any government building or asset.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “How do we know or not know if the young man was not going to seek medical attention ? He had all right to be there.”
Rene Villanueva Sr, CEO, RSV Limited: And also the street he was placed out on the street which is off the compound where he was bangled.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Yes while the street may be public you can loiter on a street, it’s not like the young man was loitering.”
Rene Villanueva Sr, CEO, RSV Limited: He was not loitering he was doing a job.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Exactly so they couldn’t say that he was loitering because he was there to perform a duty. Exactly.”
Rene Villanueva Sr, CEO, RSV Limited: And then I noticed the security wasn’t using a mask as well.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “No they were not so all of that will be dealt with.”
Also condemning the matter is President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), Luis Martinez. He told Love News that the assault of Vejea was unjustified and must be dealt with.
Luis Martinez, President, NTUCB: “We want to condemn any attack against the media. We are not going to sit down and allow anyone to attack the media in such a manner. Reporters ,you all have a job to do and we need to allow you all to do your job. And so we are disappointed to hear that. We are not going to sit down and allow anybody who works in this country to be abused in such a manner- in no way shape or form. I have said it earlier in the week that we are friends and that is why we get disappointed when they use the media as conduit to paint us in a negative manner and I’m glad that you brought it up. We are going to continue to advocate for freedom of information and that the press is able to cover the events occurring in Belize.”