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Dec 4, 2014

Physical Altercation in Coast Guard Goes to Court

A pair of coastguard officers who reportedly have had a history of enmity with each other is heading to court to resolve a criminal matter resulting from a physical assault at the headquarters a few days ago.  Seaman James Stephenson was reportedly inside his quarters when he got into a verbal exchange with an ensign.  The spat quickly escalated to blows being thrown, resulting in Stephenson being hit in the face multiple times with a service weapon.  When he attempted to make a criminal report at the police station he was instead detained pending a previous complaint lodged by his superior.  The matter, according to the seaman and his attorney, is deliberately being swept under the rug by the brass of the coastguard, forcing them to file a suit against the fellow officer.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano has more on that incident.     

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Belize National Coast Guard, the youngest of three local law enforcement agencies, is known for strict discipline and decorum among its officers.  Rarely have there been allegations of abuse and misconduct within its ranks.  That was until a week ago when two male officers got into a physical confrontation at the headquarters near Belizean Beach.  The scuffle resulted in Seaman James Stephenson being pistol whipped by his superior.  The matter has since flown under the radar but today, Stephenson, along with attorney Oscar Selgado, came forward in the media.

 

Oscar Selgado, Attorney for James Stephenson

Oscar Selgado

“I have been retained by a member of the Belize Coastguard who is here with me, Mr. Stephenson. Who instructed me that on last Friday on the twenty-eight of November instance he was at the Coastguard facility at mile three on the George Price Highway. An altercation happened between him and a senior officer of the Coastguard, a commission officer who is his superior rank. In which that commissioner office assaulted my client with a firearm, namely a nine millimeter pistol which caused sever injuries to his eyes and his face, As you look at his face you can see that there has been sever injuries done to him. The coastguard initially made an attempt to prohibit him from making a report that night. He had to jump the fence, went to the police station, made a report and instead of taking a report from him the police locked him down.”

 

Stephenson’s detention succeeded a police report filed by the senior coastguard officer moments earlier.

 

Oscar Selgado

“The same coastguard called the police and said this man had assaulted an officer on the compound and is now out there. So he was locked down and later on when the police did their own internal investigation, they realized it wasn’t so, then he was released, a statement was taken from him, and that was last Friday.  We are almost now a week away and the police has still not competed their investigation. I went to Raccoon Street Police Station and I spoke with two officers who have knowledge of the investigation and they said there is still investigation going on. This client of mine has made a criminal report seeking criminal action against a coastguard commission officer. Coastguard is doing its own investigation. I visited the coastguard headquarters just a while ago where I spoke to Commander Bennett in the presence of my client and Commander Bennett said that indeed he is aware that the altercation happened, he is aware that the assault happened but it was the first that he was seeing this seaman when I turned up at his office. This is a week later.”

 

According to Selgado, Commander Elton Bennett has said that the matter will not be dealt with internally since there was no formal report made by Stephenson.

 

Oscar Selgado

“I asked him why is that so, he said because the seaman has not made any formal report to the coastguard. Now I also ask Commander Bennett if it was prudent that because he was doing his own internal investigation to place this commissioner officer, who was alleged to have committed this assault with a firearm upon my client on administrative leave.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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