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Jun 28, 2002

Ombudsman: Police search of homes is legal

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It’s a story that more than one Belizean has come to our studios to tell, that of police officers leaving their home in disarray after searching the premises for drugs, guns, wanted men, or all of the above. But when the police walk away empty-handed, homeowners are angry and demanding retribution, convinced some law has been broken. But today, News 5′s Janelle Chanona found out that the searches are legal.

Anna, Resident, St. Jude Street

“They just come and ransack my house, they no even got wah warrant. Look how my house look, watch my step, three of my steps bruk up.”

Dorla Thomas

“The police say, you tek (take) too long fi (to) open the F-ing door and tek ih foot and stamp open the door.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

This is a scene News 5′s crews are invited to view on a regular basis, citizens complaining that police officers destroyed their belongings in their search of illegal substances, weapons and fugitives.

Dorla Thomas, a resident of St. Jude Street in Belize City says that at approximately 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, the cops showed up looking for someone. No fugitives were found, but Thomas claims that the lives of her family members and pet were threatened and her doors were damaged during the incident.

Dorla Thomas

“They broke up the gate and also stamp open all my room door, bruk up the room door. My rights were violated because they no tell me which criminal they di look fa (for) yet and I think they business mi fi (were supposed to) tell me which criminal they di look fa, at least call a name to me. But they no call no name, and the way how they tek it, like dah mi (it was) more than one person I di harbour in my house.”

Janelle Chanona

“You ever been in trouble with the law?”

Dorla Thomas

“I never been in trouble with the law with like criminal affairs yet in my life.”

But according to Ombudsman Paul Rodriguez, the police are acting within the law.

Paul Rodriguez, Ombudsman

“Cases where the police in the execution of their lawful duty to search a place for drugs, for weapons or ammunition, the police are legally empowered to go into those places without a warrant.”

Rodriguez says while citizens should expect the cops to be civil, the police must be allowed to do their job in a sensible manner.

Paul Rodriguez

“If you are the police and you are going after fugitives from justice who are armed, who have killed before, I think it is almost like committing suicide if you are just going to go and tap on a door and say, “Hey we are the police, please let us in.” And you’re asking, I think, to be shot full of bullet holes through a door. So, I think we have to keep on insisting that the police act according to the strictest rules of ethical and moral behaviour. But that’s an ideal possibly and we know that in a practical world where you’re dealing with people who do not play by the rules, the only rules they know are rules of the jungle, survival, it is hard to condemn the police.”

But one common trend we have noticed is that these types of incidents only happen in certain neighbourhoods, whose residents might feel victimised because of their economic status.

Paul Rodriguez

“Janelle I think if I heard that they broke into your house looking for weapons or ammunition or drugs, I think most Belizeans would say, “look man, you guys better check your facts more carefully.” There are cases where the police could be accused and would be accused and possibly a court of law would force the Police Department, the Government of Belize, the Attorney General and the individual policeman to make restitution to a citizen.”

Janelle Chanona

“So you’re saying then it depends on who you are?”

Paul Rodriguez

“No, that that it depends on who you are, but there are certain people that you know that are not involved in drugs. If they break into the convent lets say or to the Pastor of St. Ignatius’ house looking for guns or ammunition, I would be extremely upset and I would say that is police harassment and an embarrassment to a model citizen and that should not happen.”

Ombudsman Paul Rodriguez would like to remind all members of the public that he is prepared to listen to all complaints and determine whether or not recourse is warranted. Reporting for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.

Dorla Thomas told us this afternoon that she intends to file a complaint against the officers involved in the search of her home. But we also understand that she was charged this morning with assault against an officer. The police claims she attacked one of the officers with a machete after they entered her home, a charge Thomas denies.

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