San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Cahuita Residents Claim Police Abused Them

Two residents of the southeast beach town Cahuita claim police mistreated them earlier this month during an ambitious police operative in the Caribbean province of Limón.

One resident says he was shot at for no reason and another says he was beaten, pepper-sprayed in the face and shocked with a stun gun after an inspection of his bar during the operative.

The province-wide sweep, which entailed more than a hundred officials from the National Police, Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and other authorities, netted three murder suspects and the arrest of 134 people allegedly involved in assaults, drugs and arms trafficking, according to OIJ spokesman Francisco Ruiz.

Some 60 businesses were inspected as part of the operation, which came on the heels of a Limón crime wave that also brought more than 10,000 residents to the streets of the Caribbean port city June 14 in an unprecedented march for peace.

Costa Rican citizen Eugene Hambelant, 35, owner of Coco Bar in Cahuita, said that despite the fact that he cooperated with police and let them inspect his business without a warrant June 10 as part of the operative, authorities pepper-sprayed him in the face, dragged him into the street and kicked him after a disagreement over the volume of the music in his bar.

He and other witnesses who contacted The Tico Times said authorities used vulgar language and racial slurs, and Hambelant, who is Afro-Caribbean, alleges $600 was missing from his pocket following the incident.

He has filed a criminal complaint against the police, whom he said wouldn’t give their names after the incident.

He said both OIJ and National Police agents were present during the incident, but alleged those involved in the abuse of power wore blue uniforms, the color of National Police officers.

Public Security Ministry spokesman Jesus Ureña told The Tico Times the case is being investigated internally.

OIJ spokesman Ruiz said officers reported Hambelant was being aggressive, and struck an officer during the incident. The state plans to file charges against Hambelant because of this, Ruiz added. The Tico Times contacted the Judicial Branch to find out whether any charges had been filed against Hambelant, but didn’t get a response by press time.

“The owner didn’t cooperate, which prompted the use of force. Police had to reduce the threat,” Ruiz said.

Hambelant went to the hospital after the incident. His German wife, Kerstin Eischenlaub, said that when she and her husband went to file a complaint at the OIJ office in Limón, an officer refused to take the complaint.

Hambelant had to file his complaint in Bribrí, he said, and has since come to San José to file a complaint at the office of the Vice-Minister of Public Security, Rafael Gutiérrez, against the officer in Limón who wouldn’t accept his complaint. Gutiérrez’s aide, Francisco Cordero, told The Tico Times the case is being investigated.

Another Cahuita resident, Alan Smith-Quesada, 20, said he was driving from Cahuita north along the coast toward Limón the night of June 10 when he was stopped at a police checkpoint, where officers inspected his I.D. and driver’s license.

They let him through, he says, and he drove half a kilometer before shots he said came from a police vehicle pierced two of his car’s tires.

He said police put him facedown on the ground and kicked him, and asked why he was trying to escape. They said they were OIJ agents and searched his car for drugs and weapons before letting him go, Smith-Quesada told The Tico Times.He said he has filed a complaint with the OIJ in San José.

Ruiz said he couldn’t comment on the case and whether it is being investigated internally because the OIJ Internal Affairs Department director was on vacation.

Abuse of power is one of several charges, among others including corruption, drug and arms trafficking and bribery, for which 187 police have been investigated by the Public Security Ministry’s Inspector General’s Office, which was created a year ago, the daily La Nación reported.

The office is one of four offices within the ministry that receive complaints against officers, according to Cordero. If officials determine the complaints have enough merit to be investigated, they forward them to the ministry’s Disciplinary Department.

A total of 1,897 cases against officers have arrived at the Disciplinary Department since May of last year, according to the ministry. The Tico Times requested a breakdown of complaints by alleged offense, as well as the total number of cases that have resulted in some type of disciplinary action, but the information wasn’t available.


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