Posted: Sunday, January 3, 2021. 6:35 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: It was another trying year for the security services and Judiciary, which experienced no shortage of turnover, controversy and image repair to be undertaken.
Police Commissioner Chester Williams entered his second year in charge and faced many tribulations. After a spike in murders in March combined with the arrival of COVID-19, his men were faced with the double task of enforcing law and order for both regular crime and COVID-19 violations. He was assisted by a localized state of emergency for Southside Belize City, implemented twice in March and again in July and August.
Results were somewhat mixed, as for the seventh straight year murders exceeded 100, but were down about 25 percent from the year before. Major crime on a whole has been down, particularly crimes against property and sexual violence.
But some police were overzealous and occasionally cruel in their enforcement, such as the group who forced a Belize City man and woman to perform a sexual act on camera; officers caught extorting people, soliciting drugs, or otherwise causing mischief.
Among the good apples were those who assisted two women in giving birth at the police station; those on the frontline in the North who risked COVID-19 to patrol the border against contrabandists and jumpers, including a particularly brave officer in the South who got a hero’s welcome after getting lost in the jungle; and at the senior level, new Deputy Commissioner of Police Desiree Magdaleno and new head of Special Branch Sandra Bodden.
The Commissioner himself closed out the year with honours from the Queen, becoming a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
The courts saw great turnover at the start of the year, with Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin and Justices Courtney Abel and Sonia Griffith among the departures. The C.J. left behind some controversy after ruling in January that the Barrow government erred in its presentation of multiple supplementary appropriations, but failed to reduce his orders to writing.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled in June against the Barrow administration in August over its handling of the Corporate and Intellectual Property Registries, which it took from Belize International Services Limited (BISL).
Lengthy prison terms were handed out in July by Justice Antoinette Moore for the convicted “Mason Five:” William “Danny” Mason, Ashton Vanegas, Terrence, and Keiron Fernandez and Ernest Castillo, for the execution by beheading of Llewellyn Lucas. The group received between 25 and 40 years to life in prison.
And speaking of the Prison, the largest breakout in modern Belizean history took place over Columbus Day weekend when 28 prisoners overpowered their guards and fled into the night. All but three have since been recaptured.
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