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Police accused of infringing on rights of mentally disabled man

There is another case of human rights violations to report. The accusation is being made against the police. Human rights defender, Elisa Castellanos is no stranger to the media as she has taken on several human rights cases before and recently was at the lead of a case at the Hague Convention and won, helping a Belizean mother recover her daughter. According to Castellanos, the case involves 23-year-old, Alejandro Gomez, a Belizean with a mental disability. Gomez is a resident of Trial Farm Village in the Orange Walk District. Castellanos says Gomez and his fourteen year old friend were attacked in his house on the allegation that they stole a bicycle. The incident happened in early March, and by the 12th, the pair was charged and arraigned, but Castellanos says her concern stems from police not having followed due process for both individuals.

Elisa Castellanoes Human Rights Activists: “I am helping a mother who came to me stating that her son had been chopped in the back and arrested nevertheless even though he was attacked in the privacy of his home which is her home. He was arrested and she had concerns that everything had been done. He was questioned, he signed a paper and throughout the process of this investigation he was not understanding either the severity of the what the charge was or the process but now there is a concern that he did not understand the sign language interpreter because there is no visibility of persons with that diverse ability in our justice or legal system and then there was a point where the mother said listen he is not understanding and to stop the interview. That is when the Police allegedly told the mother no you can’t stop this interview and that they were already in there. The point of this case is due process, the point of every case I think is due process and I think there was some effort. The basics was met, the guidelines for interviewing and detaining persons states that everybody has a right to an interpreter. What I am saying is the guidelines itself will have to be looked at in terms of providing just due process to persons with diverse abilities. Sometimes when a person is deaf they may also have intellectual impairment but not everybody who is deaf has an intellectual impairment and what I am saying is that in due process there is no consideration for that. Furthermore this young man Gomez was arrested and detained along with another colleague of his and his family’s friend which is only fourteen. That minor, the Community Rehab Department was never informed by the Orange Walk Police that that the minor was in custody until the 12th which was the day of court so that minor was charged despite already being in the system with the Community Rehab. The Community Rehabs Case Officer never got a chance to help him through the process so he went through the interview process with a grandmother who is his legal guardian in a language that they don’t understand so what I am saying is the due process here is what is violated. Their constitutional right to due process.”

Gomez has been remanded and Castellanos says they are concerned for his wellbeing since he remains oblivious to what is happening to him and why his freedom has been restricted. Castellanos says that she and his mother attempted to visit him at prison last Sunday but they were not allowed to see him. She adds that she is being accused of obstructing justice since she had advised her clients to change their plea before their court hearing and due to the manner in which she handled the case. Castellanos says that she did her best to follow protocol but was racing against time and adds that she also has other concerns surrounding the case.

Elisa Castellanoes Human Rights Activists: “Why is the assailant not being charged for wounding because he did chop my client and lash him a couple times. Alejandro got a couple lashes with a machete: he got a chop wound directly in his back and one to the side of his arm. There are legitimate questions here. I am not here fighting for the criminals to go free and this is why we don’t understand that human rights is not about criminality. Human rights is about the due process and we tried to do this in a more follow the protocol and follow the line kind of way you know but I had to do a mad dash to save these two kids that were being sent off for crimes that they may or may not have committed but there is currently no evidence and also the process, I had questions about the process. That is when I blew the whistle to my colleague Mr. Orosco and because there is a project in Belize that oversees and tracks potential cases of human rights violations.”

Caleb Orozco Director Human Rights Observatory: “More precisely what I am concerned about is the idea that you would presume someone guilty who cannot speak, cannot explain themselves, who cannot understand what you are telling them long before they reach the court. If the Police Department is supposed to support lady justice in providing a blind and balanced point of view in the delivery of justice. I believe the investigating officers have a responsibility to provide all information to the court so that the court can be well informed. In this particular case the Police Department or the investigating officer fell down on his job in the name of experience. We need to do a better job in dealing with persons who are minors and persons with diverse abilities in the delivery of justice and we are simply not there yet.”

Castellanos says she is receiving support from the Human Rights Observatory in Belize.  She added that she has been reaching out to Human Rights Commission of Belize and international partners and has also written to the ministry of human development and social transformation but to date has gotten no response.  Love News reached out to several members of the Human Rights Commission who were apprised of the situation but up to news time tonight, they have not commented on the issue.  We also contacted the Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, who told us that he was not aware of the case although he was a part of the email recipients from Castellanos.  Love News understands that Attorney Leslie Mendez has taken on the case, pro bono. //////////