As residents of Ambergris Caye woke up on Thursday, March 18, morning they were shocked to learn that a Police Officer had been shot at about 3:00 in the morning. According to reports by officials of the department, Officer Gavin Sanchez was shot as he pulled his gun on a member of his own Police Department, Sergeant Paulino Reyes.
According to police reports, at about 3:10 a.m. on Thursday, March 18, a Police Officer on duty at San Pedro Police Station heard what sounded to be several gunshots from the direction of the Police Barrack room. Upon responding he observed Corporal Gavin Sanchez bleeding from the face and feet, apparently dead, and Sergeant Paulino Reyes with a wound to his head.
Initial investigations revealed that Sgt. Reyes went to his room after working special duty and upon coming out of his room he was attacked by Cpl. Sanchez who hit him on the head with a pipe. Reyes then tried to close his room door and noticed that Sanchez had a firearm and trying to shoot him. A Belize Defense Force Soldier then intervened and struggled with Sanchez who had the firearm in his hand.
In defense of himself and the soldier Reyes fired a shot which caught Sanchez in the leg; however he did not drop the firearm. Sgt. Reyes then fired a few more shots and Sanchez fell to the ground; beside him was a .45 caliber pistol. Sgt. Reyes handed over his service .9mm pistol. Sanchez was pronounced dead by a doctor who was called to the scene and his body was transported to Belize City at about 1:10 p.m. for a post mortem.
Three Assistant Commissioners of Police, Miguel Segura, David Henderson and James Magdaleno, were sent to San Pedro to head the investigation of this case. In a press conference held they explained their findings on this case. “At about 11:45 pm on Wednesday, March 17, Sergeant Reyes was working special duty at Wet Willy’s nightclub on the beachfront when his attention was drawn to two B.D.F. soldiers and a police officer having an altercation with a person identified as Cpl Gavin Sanchez.,” explained ACP Miguel Segura. “At about 12midnight Sergeant Reyes escorted Sanchez outside the premises with the assistance of the B.D.F. and PC Jeffrey Martinez of the San Pedro Police Station. He was later escorted the San Pedro Police Station.”
Reports are that Sanchez was out drinking at Wet Willy’s Bar along with another police officer who apparently engaged in an argument with his wife at Wet Willy’s. Cpl. Sanchez, who was seen drinking by several bystanders, intervened in that spousal argument. But his behavior became unruly and that was when Sergeant Reyes had him removed from the club with the intention to be detained at the Police Station.
“While at the station Cpl. Sanchez was behaving disorderly and even uttered threatening words that he will kill “dat bwai” (referring to Sgt. Reyes) in the presence of other officers at the station,” continued Miguel Segura. “Subsequent entries were made by the other officers in the diary. At about 2:30 am, after the conclusion of the event at Wet Willy’s, Sergeant Reyes arrived at the police station and made entries in the station diary in regards to the incident at Wet Willy’s that he had with Cpl. Sanchez, including the threats he received, that Sanchez would be waiting for him behind the station. Sergeant Reyes along with two B.D.F. soldiers went to the barrack room where shortly thereafter those shots were heard being fired.”
Police recovered from the scene – one (9) mm shell, six slugs found on the hallway and the wall, one (9) mm Luger pistol with serial number 30724966 and one magazine with two live (9)mm rounds, one .45 Springfield brand pistol with five .45 live rounds and one magazine bearing serial number N 307216, one piece of aluminum measuring 2 feet by 11 1/2 inches and 2 1/2 inches in width, one white bullet proof vest found on the body of the deceased with one slug, bloodstains of tennis shoes of the victim, one tennis shoe impression on the room door for Sergeant Reyes’s room.
Outside the station Police found a black kitbag under the bow of a boat close to the San Pedro Fire station, which had in an M-16 magazine containing 30 live rounds, an expended .9mm magazine, a gun holster, a Belizean passport belonging to Corporal Sanchez, four photographs, a letter for vacation leave, 6 live .9mm rounds, and other documents.
There are many questions that arise when hearing all of this. Why was corporal Sanchez not placed in a holding cell when Sergeant Reyes ordered for him to be detained? Why was he wearing a bullet proof vest and had so much ammunition in his kitbag along with personal documents?
According to Miguel Segura all of the information is being gathered in respect to that since according to him the type of ammunition found on Sanchez bag (M-16 rounds) are only issued to military and also to officers of the SPU (Special Patrol Unit) and ADU (Anti-Drug Unit). “That file is being compiled and then it will be submitted to the DPP’s office. Likewise, the parallel investigation of Internal Affairs is to look at whether or not there are any discrepancies the question of the ammunition and that’s where the chips fall it will be dealt with,” commented Mr. Segura.
So far police have taken 14 statements from police and independent eyewitnesses. There are two parallel investigations, one internal and the other criminal. A text message discovered in the cell phone of Sanchez was sent to Superintendent Arnold at 12:33 a.m. – but the content of that message is not being revealed as yet.
On Friday, March 19, Dr. Mario Estradaban, Police Pathologist performed the autopsy on the body of Corporal Sanchez and the result was that Sanchez died of trauma shock due to severe head injuries due to multiple gunshot wounds. Sanchez received a total of nine shots (nine entries and seven exits) a total of 16 wounds.
Sgt. Reyes has been placed in administrative leave and is not exactly on interdiction or half pay, but neither is he on active duty. Until the two investigations are concluded, it is not known whether Sgt. Reyes will be charged with anything.
Was Cpl. Sanchez a Rogue Cop?
*While Police Corporal Gavin Sanchez swore to protect and serve the Belizean public, he had several high profile incidents on record. According News 5, in December of 2007, Sanchez fired three shots at Jarrett Crawford, one bullet caught him in the abdomen. Crawford was wanted for robberies and Sanchez claimed he pointed a firearm at him. In April of 2008, witnesses claimed that Sanchez was drunk and after crashing his car into a drain on Iguana Street. After exiting the car, he opened fire on a passerby, Lionel Sampson. Sampson was shot on his left leg and on his right hand. In that incident Sanchez said that Sampson tried to shoot him when he was driving past him. And in July of 2009, News 5 records show that Sampson shot Gilroy Garnett on his right thigh while on Freetown Road. Sanchez said that Garnett punched him after he recognized him as a man wanted for burglary. According to Jeffries the incidents involving Sanchez were still under investigation at the time of his death.