published Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Husband says local woman held illegally in Belize

by Chris Carroll

The husband of a Chattanooga woman says police illegally jailed his wife in the Central American country of Belize after authorities cited her for a vehicle collision that wasn't her fault.

"Suzan was there for 18 or 19 hours, with no food or water and no sanitation facilities other than a bucket," said Don Boutz, a retired U.S. Army colonel from Hixson who's been communicating with his wife via e-mail.

Various dispatchers at the police station in Independence, Belize, said their superiors were unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.

On Dec. 20, authorities in Belize, located on the Yucatan Peninsula east of Guatemala, arrested 60-year-old Suzan Boutz, a Chattanooga jewelry store owner, but her husband said they had no reason to do so.

After visiting ancient Mayan ruins with two relatives, Suzan Boutz stopped at an intersection to turn left when a motorcycle crashed into the front of her rental car, Don Boutz said.

Locals whisked the motorcycle owner away to a hospital. Eyewitnesses assured Boutz they would vouch for her, saying she was not at fault, but investigators took her into custody "without any information and without an opportunity to engage an attorney," her husband said.

Officers left out key portions of her statement, and they appeared to have only rudimentary skills in written English, Don Boutz said.

On Dec. 23, Suzan Boutz pleaded not guilty at Dangriga Town Magistrate Court to charges related to the accident, according to news accounts, and her passport was taken. Her next hearing is Jan. 27, her husband said, and she will remain in Belize until then.

Don Boutz has attempted to solicit help from the U.S. Embassy in Belize, but "the only thing the embassy would do for her is send a list of attorneys," he said.

"That list doesn't say who's good or who's bad," he said. "It's like somebody went to the telephone book and picked out attorneys."

But an official from the U.S. Department of State who requested anonymity said embassies can only do so much.

"Expectations are often very large -- 'This is an American citizen, you can't do this; let the person out,'" the official said, noting that the remarks were general, not about Boutz's case. "But people need to realize that, when they're in a foreign country, that country's laws apply. So you have to work within that legal system, which is often different and sometimes intimidating compared to ours."

The official added that Boutz took a positive step by hiring an attorney.

"There are local processes that have to be followed," the official said.

Don Boutz has debated traveling to Belize rather than "jangling the cords of power" at home. He said witnesses -- some accusing the motorcyclist of drinking with a police officer before the incident -- were intimidated, with one man being chased from his residence by "a truckload of men."

"When that sort of thing happens, the embassy needs to step up and get serious," Don Boutz said.

He said the family hoped the court system would release his wife after the Jan. 27 court date, but he wasn't completely optimistic.

"It would be foolish not to have an alternate plan," he said. "We want her out."

Contact Chris Carroll at or 423-757-6610.

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XMarine said...

They have very little English skills?If you are in their country maybe you need to learn their language.I take the husband was in the car & is a witness or is this second hand info?

January 12, 2011 at 6:42 a.m.
robin said...

@XMarine- FYI Belize is an english speaking country.

January 12, 2011 at 9:07 a.m.
mella_yella said...

American citizens are illegally arrested and held in American jails, which are often substandard, all the time where they are often subjected to humiliation and abuse at the hands of jail guards.

January 12, 2011 at 10:26 a.m.
belizianese said...

Maybe those Belize police were trained by America's police? My aunt was illegally arrested and illegally held in a local American jail where her family members were emotionally and psychologically tortured for well over a period of 13 hours with misinformation when they called to check on her well being after learning of her arrest. Once we were informed she'd been taken to a local hospital, which was not true. Another time, we were told they had no such person on record at the jail.

January 12, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.
xyzyra said...

Quote: "So you have to work within that legal system, which is often different and sometimes intimidating compared to ours."

"Often "different" and "intimidating" compared to ours?"

That damN near made me vomit!

January 12, 2011 at 12:33 p.m.
ceeweed said...

Hubby seems pretty obtuse in the ways of the world for someone who earned the rank of colonel. His wife's cell also had more than a bucket if she is able to send and receive E-mail. I share his frustration and concern for his wife. It must have come as a shock that a Central American government does not respect the bird on his shoulder. What they do respect is the Ben Franklins in his wallet. Good lawyer, bad lawyer, it does not matter, just start ponying up the greenbacks. They will let him know when he hits the magic number that will make this matter go away.

January 12, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.
Meriah said...

I have lived in Placencia for 15 years and am having a very hard time understanding this one sided story. I have certainly dealt with the police here and especially the tourist police and have found them to be fair and just. I have never heard of threats being made to witnesses. Why can't these witnesses step forward via the net, if they are afraid to physically? A bond is normal, she is not being singled out by this, it is just the way it is done. If the son was in the car, why did he leave Mom at the police station to lay on the concrete. I wish that Belize police would step up and give their side of the story, I am sure that they are being advised not to. How does anyone know that the motorcyclist was drinking with the police? How is that poor guy anyway?? The car looked badly damaged. English is the language and as you would know they are writing all comments in long hand, they aren't on computers or have a secretary, even in court the judge will be writing everything said, so it goes slow, it isn't that they are incompetent. I am sorry that this happened to you, but I sure would like to hear the other side of the story

January 13, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.
fairmon said...

people that find it fun to frolic around the world need to know, understand and plan for the risk. I hope things work out well for her but I have little sympathy for anyone that thinks they just have to travel to another country when it is not necessary.

January 15, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
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