Police brutality kills Caye Caulker teen

police brutality

Pallbearers bring Hilbert Sotz’ coffin to the wake

BELIZE JOURNAL: On June 8, according to a post-mortem exam, Hilbert Sotz, 18, died of trauma to the head and the heart. He sustained these injuries while in custody at the police station for suspected burglary. Hundreds of islanders rioted for hours after Hilbert was seen dead on arrival at the poly clinic. Some sought to lynch the two culpable officers for such extreme police brutality. Those two were kept under guard until they were whisked away by boat to Ambergris Caye. Many rioters were thowing bottles and other projectiles at the poly clinic. Nearby stores locked their doors early. Finally a Gang Suppression Unit, dispatched from Belize City, dispersed the crowd by firing shots into the air.

police brutality

Hilbert and sister Kimberly (upper left) play Stretch with other kids in 2008 at Tree of Life Ministries

Hilbert had regularly attended our Tree of Life meetings as a child and preteen. His innocence was proven too late when the culprits were found two days later with the stolen items. Hilbert was living in Belmopan, and it was verified that he was not even on the island when the burglary occurred. This is the third person who has died of police brutality inside the Caye Caulker station since 2004. Only two other murders have happened on the island during that time. In 2004 a man called “Pony” got into an argument at the police station. He was shot in the back of the head as he went out the door. In 2010 Alex Goff was taken into the station for disorderly conduct. When he continued acting disorderly at the station, he was killed by a gunshot to the forehead. Apparently some officers thought they could get away with murder behind closed doors.

Manuel Guerra, a close friend of Hilbert’s, was in police custody with him when Hilbert was killed. Manuel was not released until three days later. He described to Amandala newspaper the extremes of police brutality which they suffered. Both were beaten, locked together in a cell, then taken into the office. “They pepper-sprayed us in the face, tasered us, wet us up with water, and tortured us by constantly shocking us with a live wire. Then they knocked us out,” Manuel said.

When Manuel came to, he was handcuffed to a chair. He was horrified but helpless as he watched the two officers put a plastic bag over Hilbert’s head to silence him. They “beat him so bad that he couldn’t handle it. For 20 minutes, he was bawling, ‘Stop, stop’. I wanted to do something, but I couldn’t. I knew that they killed him, and from the way [he looked when] they took him out…I then started yelling that he was dead and that they were the ones who killed him. So they started to beat me again. Then they put a gun in my face and told me that if I said anything [about what happened], they will kill me.” Such police brutality left Manuel with injuries all over his body. His throat is swollen so badly that he can only eat soup.

On a rainy night on June 11, about 400 islanders held a peaceful candle light vigil in support of Hilbert’s family. Hundreds also attended the burial service on June 13. Hilbert’s father was so distraught that he could not bear to watch his son be lowered into the ground. He went to stand at a distance so he could express his grief more fully to those who accompanied him at that time, including myself. This is a man whose son—for whom he had high hopes—was torn from him cruelly and viciously. Thank God, he is opening up to God like never before, and receiving counsel from Tree of Life Ministries.

The two culpable officers, Leonard Nunez and Hallet King, are being held in prison on murder charges. Three other officers who were present at the station during the beatings have been put on interdiction for being negligent and “slovenly inactive.” Some say racism came into play, since Nunez and King are black, and two victims are mestizos. In the same way racism is suspected in recent cases of US police brutality…

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