Belizean magistrate drops charges

Threat of imprisonment no longer hanging over Donna Reishus' head

From her office at a clinic in a small town in Belize, Donna Reishus can see the outdoor holding cell where she was detained for two days.

She can see the Belizean police who arrested her, the officers she said she watched drink rum and Coke while on duty.

The former Craig nurse said she's not easily frightened, but she still gets scared thinking about her experience.

She said she felt falsely accused and stripped of her rights.

She was charged in December with the crime of "committing a mischievous act."

When she was charged, a Belizean police spokesman told the Craig Daily Press Reishus had tried to coerce children to recant the accusations that they had been abused by American men living in Belize.

Reishus contended that police coerced the children, threatening to beat them if they didn't make statements about the Americans.

At the time of her arrest, Reishus was participating in a TV news story in which the children were going to speak out about their treatment at the hands of police.

The police spokesman said Reishus was tampering with witnesses.

In May, a Belizean magistrate threw out the case.

"I got up in the little box," Reishus said, recalling her last trip to court. "And the judge said it was his opinion that there was no case. There was no evidence I broke the law. He said I should never have been behind bars. The police never should have taken my passport. He said, 'This matter is dismissed. You are free to go.'"

"I just stood there," Reishus said.

Through the trial's several postponements, national press attention and speculation surrounded the case. A radio show held a call-in segment about the American nurse, which elicited a wide spectrum of responses. Police contacted her again and again to check her driver's license or inquire about the registration of her pickup. The ordeal hung over her "like a black cloud," Reishus said.

After the case was dismissed, some officers apologized. Three of them have visited her clinic. The man who spearheaded the investigation against her was relocated, Reishus said.

Now that she's been exonerated, life is back to usual in Belize. The two girls -- the witnesses she was alleged to have tampered with -- stop by Reishus' clinic to visit with her and give her updates about their progress in school.

Reishus is working without police interruptions. She's teaching Belizean women about contraception and performing the "basic kinds of nursing that I love to do."

"I really feel personally gratified by the work I do."

In a country where families with eight children are common, and some women have 20 or more, Reishus said it is her mission to show the women the contraception options that exist.

Reishus is back in Craig on personal business. She'll be visiting friends and family. And she said she couldn't miss the first graduation of Colorado Northwestern Community College's nursing students. Later, she will participate in a continuing education class for nurse practitioners.

In the meantime, she's seeing patients at the Visiting Nurse Association. It's been years since she worked here, but everything seems to be just where she left it, Reishus said, looking through the drawers and cabinets at the clinic.

Reishus said she's happy to work in a fully stocked clinic, where everything she needs is close at hand and there are plenty of people to help.

And she is appreciative of the freedom of American culture and the checks and balances that keep officials honest.

"We need to understand that things are a lot worse in a lot of other places," Reishus said. "We can't take for granted the good system we have here."

Law officers in the United States, for instance, have much more training than their counterparts in Belize. And as far as she knows, they don't drink on the job.

"The kinds of things that happen in countries like Belize just can't happen here," Reishus said.

After her summer visit to the States, Reishus said she'll be focusing on her work in Belize. She feels a responsibility to her patients there, and the clinic where she works closes when she's on vacation.

"This will be my last visit for a while," Reishus said.

Despite her problems in her country, Reishus speaks about her love of Belize and her house on the beach where the sounds of howler monkeys wake her up in the morning.

"I love the tropics. I love the flowers and the fruit and the warm weather," Reishus said.

"I really miss my family and friends, but that's about it. I love my more simple type of living."

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