Border City Police Under Fire

February 11, 2012

In a February 10 press conference, non-governmental human rights organizations demanded that Ciudad Juarez Police Chief Julian Leyzaola straighten out the behavior of officers or step down. Representing more than a dozen organizations, the activists announced they had documented 23 cases of alleged torture committed by local police during the month of January alone. In one of the incidents, a man named Jose Cruz Sierra was allegedly tortured to death. Among the groups making the denunciation were the doctors and nurses organized in the Citizens Medical Committee and the Women’s Roundtable.

In recent days, Leyzaola and his boss, Mayor Hector “Teto” Murguia, came under increasing fire from different quarters for the conduct of the Ciudad Juarez municipal police force, which was supposedly purged of bad elements and then redeployed as the front-line force against criminal gangs destabilizing the Mexican border city of more than one million people. Yet under the Murguia-Leyzaola administration, more than 100 complaints against officers for alleged abuses are stacked up in the justice commission of the public safety department. Broadly speaking, police officers have also been connected to the repression of public protests, harassment of citizens’ organizations and attacks on journalists.

On Wednesday, February 8, police officers nearly killed a young boy, Josue Lopez Tapia, after stopping a car driven by the child’s mother. A school principal by profession, Sonia Tapia later declared that she thought police directed her to drive away when officers suddenly opened fire, seriously wounding 9-year-old Josue. Tapia further declared that she was then driven around the city by police for two hours before being accused of attempted murder. However, the educator was released from custody after two days; four officers were arrested on charges ranging from injury to rendering false testimony. Josue Lopez remains hospitalized in neighboring El Paso, Texas, and his family reportedly has fled Ciudad Juarez “forever.”

Both Tapia and her son are U. S. citizens.

Shortly prior to the Lopez shooting, the Ciudad Juarez Journalists Association demanded outside intervention in the management of the municipal police force. The press group denounced 15 aggressions against members of the press during the last eight months, with the most recent case involving a photographer for El Diario de Juarez. In a statement, the journalists’ group contended that authorities had done nothing while the overall situation of violence spun out of control.

“We request the intervention of the state authority of the governor and state prosecutor so the rule of law is restored in Ciudad Juarez and the activities of journalists are respected once-and-for all,” the local press association demanded.

In a new article posted on its website, the Latin American pro-press freedom organization Article 19 termed Leyzaola an “enemy of the press.” The Mexico City–based group asserted that Chihuahua state authorities had given only lip service to genuinely protecting members of the press.

The Ciudad Juarez municipal police have become a hot political issue. Last week, city council members from both the PRI and PAN parties criticized actions by local cops and threatened to force Leyzaola to testify before the elected body. The criticisms flowed as the municipal police force was still bunkered down in hotels in order to avoid well-orchestrated attacks by a criminal group that vowed to kill police officers unless Leyzaola resigned. In January, nine officers were murdered in different attacks. Relatives, friends and co-workers of two men arrested for killing officers, Edmundo and Oscar Torres, charged last week that the pair is being framed for crimes they did not commit.

City Councilman Abelardo Valenzuela of the PAN party said citizens complain to him every day about officers’ conduct. “I believe this is the moment for the public safety chief to reflect on his responsibility with respect to some abuses against the citizenry,” Valenzuela said.

Like an increasing number of Mexican police officials, Leyzaola has a military background. In their press conference, Ciudad Juarez human rights activists said the Mexican army and Federal Police have likewise been at the center of surges in local citizen complaints since 2008.

Sources: El Diario de Juarez, February 11, 2012. Articles by Luz Carmen del Sosa and editorial staff., February 10 and 11, 2012. Articles by Francisco Lujan., February 10, 2012. El Paso Times, February 9, 2012. Article by Alejandro Martinez Cabrera. El Sur/Agencia Reforma, February 6, 2012.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S. -Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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