On the night of the elections, Plus TV got an exclusive video of recently re-elected area representative John Saldivar as he ordered the police personnel who were stationed at the Belmopan counting Station at Comprehensive High School to back off as they moved in to arrest a man whom they suspected to be the person who discharged a firearm in the middle of the UDP’s victory celebration. There was little that police could do at that time as the crowd, ignited by Saldivar’s orders, whisked the detained suspect away from the hands of authorities. In an extensive interview with Plus TV, the officer commanding Belmopan Police Station, Superintendent Howell Gillett, explained the department’s position on the matter.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: Yes the ideal situation would have been to arrest on the spot and then that would remove all of the doubts that we now have. But in my view and in my expertise, the police might have done the best that they could have done considering all the circumstances that had occurred, in the sense that if you saw the video like you said you did, the officers couldn’t overpower those people who were there. So I believe if we had gone in for an arrest at that time, we would have been over crowded by the amount of supporters that were there. And remember these people were awaiting the result of an election in which they had in their mind that they had won. They might have been drinking. We cannot surely say that, so I think sometimes we have to…
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter: But in my observation sir, because I was the one that actually took the video. It wasn’t so much the crowd, but really the personality behind the words that were uttered. The personality which is Mr. Saldivar. That was the main reason for the crowd to rally up behind the alleged individual and for the police to simply back off, as they were ordered to do.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: Yes I understand that and I see where you’re going but remember after this incident, I interviewed all the officers, because I know the magnitude of something like this and if you’d allow me to say this part, we here, or I could speak for myself then, we are not scared of what might happen or what could happen to a police officer. If you could remember clearly, the driver of Mr. Saldivar was involved in an accident where a citizen lost his life. There was no special treatment granted to the driver. The driver was kept here from the time he was arrested on the Saturday night until the Monday he was taken to court and all the possible chargers that could be levied against someone who commits such an offense were brought against him. So there was no cover up.
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter: Sir, could the same objectivity be shown to the now Minister, who was not the minister while the house was dissolved as it relates to his obstruction of the investigation at that time?
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: Well I don’t know that he was any minister at that time, and if the police followed what he said then the police officers faltered in that area, because he was no minister and I don’t know if he had asked anybody to do anything to support this supporter in this specific incident that we’re speaking about at this time.
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter: But there was obstruction of justice. If you see the video, that was the main point in the entire video, that what was the highlight of the video was Mr. Saldivar, not the minister at that time, telling the police to back off. After following that, his supporters, wrenching the said individual from the police grasps who were going to detain him. Wrenching him from their grasps and moving him to continue the celebrations.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: You see, this thing to me, yes an offense was permitted at that time. It’s an offense then and it’s an offense now. But as I said, you need to have proper evidence to go to court which might be seen easy watching a video and saying, “Oh, that’s sufficient.” But I can tell you from experience that that’s not sufficient to go to any court. That’s one. And to me it has a big political twist in the sense that it’s somebody who was a minster and is now a minister, so I could see where were going in terms of that. I only could speak for the Belmopan Police, we are not covering anybody and I could tell you pointedly that if there is sufficient evidence to lay a charge or charges against this individual, it will happen.
The incident happened in a matter of seconds but our cameras captured everything, including a couple of stalwart Saldivar supporters, who repeated John Saldivar’s orders to police to back off. We asked Superintendent Gillett if there will be any action taken from police against those individuals for obstruction of justice.
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter: Those people were repeating what Mr. Saldivar had uttered to the police. “Back off” John moved on, and they continued to repeat it to the police, “Back off” That’s also considered an obstruction of justice.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: Yes that could be obstruction of justice. But as I said, the video, the same video that you are speaking of…
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter: Is not sufficient evidence in your view.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: No, for it to become evidential material, you would have to say to the court that I am the author of this. It’s a procedure that you have to go through. You would have to be testifying saying that this is my camera or my phone, I videoed this tape. Because you have what is called the chain of custody and that must be followed. It came from your phone it was downloaded to a flash drive or CD or whatever the case may be and that’s the way how you present evidence to the court. It’s not like you just coming to me and saying see a copy here and I could tell the court, one day Mr. Pech dropped by and gave this to me and present it. It doesn’t work like that. The public viewing and so, what you would call the public opinion, it would work 100%. But it’s different for court purposes. And I fully understand how the media, how some of our people are thinking, and I fully respect that and I want to do all the things that are right, all the right things so that we don’t lose the support of the public that we now enjoy.
We also asked police for an update on the status of the main suspect who is believed to have fired a gun in public. While there is strong supposition that he did so in celebration of the UDP’s victory, authorities say that does not justify the action. The public is reminded that section 40 of the fire arms act chapter 143 clearly states that
“A person shall be guilty of an offence against this act who discharges any firearm or ammunition on or within forty yards of any public road or any public place, except (a) in the lawful protection of his person or property or of the person or property of some other person; or (b)under the direction of some civil or military authority authorized to give such direction; or (c) with the permission of the Commissioner of Police, or (d) for any other lawful excuse or justification.”
At the time of the incident , Saldivar was not the Minister of National Security. As a result , none of the above mentioned circumstances fit this scenario. According to authorities, what is holding back this case now is that the video does not capture the moment in which the trigger was pulled. Police said they interviewed their personnel who were posted on Election Day but none of them said they saw the individual commit the infraction. Furthermore, they could not find the expended shell to match with the pistol that was confiscated from the individual in question. Here is what police have done in the meantime.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: Well remember it’s one offense. It happened together. It’s not one investigation with who fired the shot and another, everything happened together and it stemmed from one to the next. It’s one big investigation, and I’m sure that we’ll have a fruitful conclusion, because the letter is saying that he has been warned, and there will never be a future occurrence and we are submitting to the commissioner due to what we highly request that his license to hold a gun be evocate.
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter: For a certain period of time?
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: No. When we ask for evocation it means you no longer hold a weapon, and that’s the least. So if they minus the evidence that we need for the court case, the least that will happen to him is that his license will be taken away.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station: Of course. We have to finish it because I think the public deserves it, we have to do what is right.
Emmanuel Pech, Reporter : Sir I don’t know if what input you would have in this but we understand from various sources that the same individual in question, the one that is now in trouble with the law for being a suspect of discharging a firearm. That same individual, sources tell us, has recently received a contract to import weapons for the police department. I don’t know if you have any idea.
Sup. Howell Gillet, O. C. Bmp Police Station :No sir. I would like to help you with it. I find myself disposed to the media and to the public, but to be honest I don’t know anything of that sort. It would be very foolish of me to speak on that.
The individual in question is said to be the owner of BOAZ, a golf car rental and sales company on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. As to the confiscated firearm, authorities have sent that to the forensic lab where it will be tested to see if it matches with the characteristics of a firearm that was discharged on that day. Police investigations are ongoing.