Belize City, Mar. 28th, 2023—Nineteen-year-old Dyandre Chee was shot and killed by police during a high-speed chase on Saturday night in Orange Walk Town.
Police Commissioner Chester Williams ordered an internal and criminal investigation into the fatal shooting, after which four police officers were detained.
According to the Deputy Head of the National Crime Investigation Branch (NCIB), Superintendent Gerald Jones, at around 10:25 p.m., four police officers of the Quick Response Team (QRT) were on patrol in the Cinderella Plaza area when their attention was drawn to three motorcycles with five occupants. The QRT officers set chase after the motorcyclists to intercept them. The drivers of the motorcycles did not stop, and the hot pursuit continued through the town and ended on Otro Benque Road with shots being fired.
Supt. Jones said that officers "put on their revolving lights and tried to stop these individuals again, but apparently, they did not stop. Upon reaching the supermarket, it was then that the police officers saw these individuals making a U-turn. When the police officers approached these individuals, there was only one motorcycle at that time because they lost sight of two of those motorcycles in that area. The one that was approached by the police did a U-turn, and it was then that the police approached the individual; they came out of the vehicle, and then the police officers approached both of them, and the motorcycle fell to the ground with the individuals. It was then that the police observed that one of the persons that were riding on the motorcycle had a wound, took him to the hospital, and he was pronounced dead."
That individual was Chee, a resident of Trial Farm Village. He was shot in the back and abdomen.
At the scene, investigators found ten .223 caliber expended shells. Superintendent Jones said, "Eight of them were found within the vicinity of Liberty and Palmar areas, and two were found in the supermarket area, along the route, two nine-millimeter expended shells were also found."
The rifles signed out by the officers have since been seized and will be sent to the lab for testing. Investigators will submit the 9mm shells to the National Forensic Service Ballistic Unit to determine their origin since the officers claim they did not have a 9mm pistol in their possession.
Police officers claim they heard gunshots and returned fire. The officers pursued the group for four miles.
Use of Excessive Force & Breaches in Policies
The recently published ‘2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Belize’ stated that "there were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings." The report also stated that "there were credible reports of abuse and use of excessive force by law enforcement agents."
Police Commissioner Chester Williams has conceded that the officers who pursued Chee and his friends used excessive force. Williams said, "From what I have seen through the investigation is that the force used by the police officers in that particular incident was excessive, and it ought not to have occurred."
The four QRT officers violated several policies of the Belize Police Department. The officers violated the body camera policy, the use of force policy, the human rights policy, and the pursuit policy.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Alejandro Hernandez, of the BPD’s Compliance Unit, told reporters that "we have a body cam [policy] that where there's an incident, body cams must be on at all times, but if it is sensitive, like sexual nature, then body cams are to stay off. But since those incidents happen, those body cams should have been on at all times." In this particular case, only the lead officer of the group was wearing a body cam. However, the camera was off.
Supt. Jones explained, "The body cam that the police officers were using at that time, we found out that they had the body cam on their body, but it was not turned on, and so we need to conduct a further investigation to find out if there was any breach in terms of this situation."
As it relates to the pursuit policy, ASP Hernandez said, "Based on the information received of shots fired and officers returning fire, they had to consider if they continue to pursue or leave it at that but after communicating with the station commander that night, he was going to view these factors and decide that we continue with this pursuit or not because if they had prior knowledge of these persons, where they can be found, then the pursuit could have stopped. The pursuit policy also states that if you're in pursuit of someone fleeing, you should not fire warning shots."
Hernandez would not divulge additional information because of the ongoing investigation.
Chee’s Family Wants Justice
Yahari Villeda was with Chee on the night of the unfortunate incident. Villeda says that they saw a vehicle with bright lights coming in their direction. The group of motorcyclists decided to accelerate, which led to them being pursued by QRT officers. Villeda says they did not shoot at the police officer.
Villeda recounts, "When we reached close to this ending and we had to gear down, and so when we gear down, you just hear mufflers pop, you hear ‘pop pop my one and his one. As you hear ‘pop pop’ you just heard seconds later … six shots."
Police Commissioner Chester Williams suspects that the officers mistook the popping sound of the motorcycles’ mufflers as gunshots. According to Williams, only the officers reported hearing gunshot sounds. He said, "No one else is saying that they heard any shots fired at the police or they saw anyone firing at the police. We are operating under the perception that it could be that as the young men have said that the motorcycle that they were on had the muffler removed and because of the removal of the muffler it makes a lot of noise, when you gear down. It will make a backfire sound and as a part of their investigation, I had directed this morning that Mr. Jones take the motorcycle to a mechanic to verify if, in fact, the motorcycles would be capable of making such noise. That was done, the mechanic did confirm that the motorcycle does in fact make those noises. So we're still in limbo where that is concerned."
Chee’s sister, Serian, said that the officers are not being truthful in their statements. She said, "They just killed my little brother and apart from them killing him my little brother was already dead they kicked up my little brother, knowing he was bleeding, he was on the ground he couldn’t do anything anymore. They kicked him. They still wanted to handcuff the man when he was already dead."
"They really killed my brother for no reason, and all I am asking is for Chester to look into this very seriously", Serian added.
Chee is not known to be a troublemaker. His police record was clean. He was an employed father of a one-year-old girl.
Candles have been placed on Otro Benque Road, where Chee took his last breath.
Williams said, "I am not going to cover the wrongdoing of no police officer, none."
Chee’s Family Can Sue
Attorney Nazira Myles has successfully litigated police abuse and excessive force cases. Recently, Myles sued the Belize Police Department on behalf of the Cantun family in Corozal. Members of the Cantun family were victims of an illegal police search, police abuse, and unlawful detention in 2021. The court ordered that the Cantun family be paid $126,000 in damages.
The court also ordered the defendants to pay $67,500 to the Legal Advice and Service Center of Belize to fund litigation on behalf of the very poor and indigent who wish to bring a case against the Belize Police Department.
Myles says that in reviewing the preliminary facts of the cast, there are several factors to be considered, including lack of training. Myles explained, "These officers one, either they are pretending that they don’t know what to do so as to cover their legal action or what they do, or they genuinely do not have the proper training or knowledge how to react in certain circumstances. I think that comes from the lack of legal training. I think that it needs to be taken to different levels now where police officers have even the most basic kind of training, in terms of how to deal with individuals, the applicable law and as the law updates they need to have these officers review the law."
Myles stressed that all police officers need to be properly trained on how to use a firearm and how to deal with certain circumstances. "That is the only way, if there is some accountability or transparency from the police, that we will move away from that culture where we see police as the bad person and the reputation that they have built," Myles added.
With Police Commissioner Chester Williams conceding that the officers used excessive force, the family can sue for wrongful death.
Myles said, "With this young man, because he died a wrongful death in their hands, it will then take it to a different level where you would accumulate what his entitlement would have been had he lived a full life and fruitful life. But, it still brings us back to the point that there has to be some serious action, and that won't come, not right now because it is now that the government, this or the past, knows that police need training."
The four police officers have yet to be charged. The BPD is waiting on instructions from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.