Posted: Friday, April 21, 2023. 2:47 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: While there was no doubt that Laddie Gillett, 14, is deceased as a result of harm caused by a gunshot wound, the case against his accused and now convicted killer Kareem Martinez turns on whether he fired the shot and, at the time he fired it, whether he had lawful justification to do so.
High Court Justice Antoinette Moore found that while several officers carried weapons on the night of July 14, 2021, on the beach in Placencia, Stann Creek District while ostensibly pursuing potential wrongdoers, there was evidence of only one gun being fired, and one expended shell being recovered that matched that weapon – the firearm belonging to Martinez.
The judge found that the testimony of Martinez’s fellow officers was not entirely truthful, with at least one officer wavering between what type of weapon he brought to the scene and whether it was fired. With that, she said she could not believe Martinez’s unsworn statement that he fired a warning shot in the air while another of the officers fired, simultaneously, or that someone else fired and Martinez did not.
As to lawful justification, Justice Moore cited the Constitution, case law, and the Police Department manual of operations as to the procedure for lawful detainment of a person, lawful stop-and-search of a person and use of deadly force, excessive force and warning shots.
Critically, Justice Moore found that police are not entitled by law to stop “any person, any place, any time, for any reason,” and that per the Constitution, a person’s liberty may be withheld only in certain circumstances, and in this case, the “reasonable suspicion” that an individual has committed, or is about to commit, a crime, as well as in defence of self, others or property.
She could not find that Martinez had rational suspicion that Gillett, Thomas Palacio, and their female companions were involved in a crime at the Placencia Beach Club and running away from them, and that it was more likely that they were rushing to beat the 10 p.m. curfew then in place. The suspicion Martinez spoke of in his statement to the court at trial that “they,” meaning the boys, were holding something “shiny” in “their hands” was not nearly enough and in any case, it was established that both had dropped their cell phones and were not holding anything when Gillett was shot.
Toward the end of her summary of judgment, Justice Moore cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Belize is a party, and plans by the Police Department to establish a policy specifically dealing with interaction with children. While Laddie’s life was senselessly taken, she said, more training for police officers and a clearer understanding of the law and its application would ensure it was not likely to happen again.
A sentencing date will be agreed upon by the parties – Senior Crown Counsel Javier Chan and Richard “Dickie” Bradley prosecuting and defense counsel Oscar Selgado – and announced.
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