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Police officers arrested, fear being tortured and beaten

Created: 06 August, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read

    A whooping 62 police officers were arrested by the military in Tijuana and were presented to the media before being sent to a Veracruz penitentiary by plane for the remainder of the legal inquiry – a move that has been largely met by criticism by the families, lawyers and human rights advocates fearing arbitrary proceedings and even torture.

    Sixteen state police investigators and 40 city cops were detained after being summoned for a workshop; six more ex-cops were taken from their homes. All were presented in front of the cameras at the local Military Airport in Tijuana last Tuesday.

    The event was presided over by State Prosecutor Rommel Moreno Manjarrez and Military Commander Alfonso Duarte Mújica, who said the arrests were a result of a two year investigation that found the agents under orders by organized crime.

    The total rose to 84 agents in the following days.

    In the presentation, at least a dozen agents cried, some even cursed at their superiors, accusing them of betraying them and using them as “scapegoats” without even showing them arrest warrants.

    They even made reference to a series of open letters sent to local media by General Aponte Polito, when he was the Military Commander for Baja California. In the letters, published in mid 2008, he claimed corruption ran deep and included high ranking State officials.

    One of the cops arrested, Luis Armando Chávez Flores, had been previously detained by military along with 10 others in September of last year but was released without any charges.

    Some of the cops that have been previously arrested by the military and had filed torture complaints at state, national and international institutions, but so far no measures have been taken, including the follow-up of the Istanbul Protocol or UN recommended expert’s report.

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    The human rights allegations against the military have been documented in Human Rights Watch report and at least two female lawyers in charge of filing such cases have filed their own complaints after being attacked and threatened so badly they left the city in mid-June.

    “My brother didn’t file a complaint because of fear of what would happen to him” said Chavez sister, Brenda, who rallied outside State offices a day after his arrest.

    “We fear he might be beaten or tortured in order to make him sign what they please, we don’t want him to be mistreated the way he was mistreated before” she added.

    In the presentation to the media, Chávez grabbed the barrel of a rifle in the hands of a military officer and yelled “Shot me, kill me right here… pull the trigger.” He was quickly restrained and taken away from the rest of the group.

 Authorities’ actions under question

    The series of arrests are just a week after Federal authorities in the US who announced the arrest of 31 people, including Baja California State Prosecutor’s Liason officer Jesús Quiñones, a man said to be close to the State Prosecutor.

    According to the 79 page long complaint, those arrested in San Diego are believed to be part of the Arellano Felix Cartel, folded into a group lead by Fernando Sánchez Arellano and still in charge of drug trafficking, kidnapping as well as murders as part of the Cartel’s enforcement both in San Diego and Tijuana, with the support of corrupt Mexican officials.

    At least a hundred family members rallied outside City offices asking for justice and questioning the existence of proper arrest warrants.

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    “One more time our public servants are trampling over people’s rights, under false pretenses and lured with lies” said a family member who asked not to be identified and even added he suspects they have been taken to Veracruz as a way to keep them away from their support groups so it’s harder for them to retain proper legal counsel.

            Various lawyers have condemned the fact that detainees where paraded in front of the media, claiming this is a clear violation of the resolution by the Supreme Court, prohibiting authorities to allow media access to people who have been detained under suspicion of having committed a crime, but have not been formally charged.

   In his weekly column, lawyer and human rights activist, and ex human rights ombudsman in Baja California, Raúl Ramírez Baena, condemned the trial-by-media approach and even questions why Chief of security Julian Leyzaola wasn’t present during the presentation, claiming it might be a way of evading responsibility because he is one of the accused of having engaged in torture in prior detentions by the military.

   “It’s not about alleging their innocence, but the officer’s reactions to their public disgrace are uncommon…suspicion has been placed and it is now a legitimate question to ask if they are in fact being used as escape goats, with unsustainable charges or maybe their names have been filtered by a third party. It would be terrible to find out this media-montage in clear violation of the officer’s rights, was put together because authorities are under pressure by DEA, FBI, and public opinion, both nationwide and internationally” he explained in the column.

   Amongst those protesting outside city offices was Cintia Paola Oraga Zúñiga, a twenty something student and daughter of María Zúñiga Toledo, one of the city police arrested.

   Cintia has been left in charge of her younger brothers because her mother’s checks have been suspended indefinitely and she was the sole provider for the family. She said her mother has cervical cancer and she is worried her detention might disrupt treatment.

    “She just doesn’t deserve this, she has been loyal, she loved her job and was proud of her uniform and serving the public” she said, “they claim to have been investigating for the past two years but they never went by my house to see how we live. My mother doesn’t even own a car; if she had been colluded with organized crime she at least would have had a decent pair of wheels.”

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