Mexico’s top cop was forced to step down from his post Monday after the country’s human rights commission concluded its report finding federal policemen executed 22 alleged cartel members —some shot from an attack helicopter— and then manipulated the crime scene to make it look like a fierce two-sided gunfight.
In May 2015 the Mexican government reported that federal police were involved in a gun battle with hitmen from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The shootout ended with more than 40 people dead. Officials said the federal agents had been ambushed on a highway near a ranch in the southern state of Michoacán. But the lopsided outcome —42 bad guys killed and only one federale— immediately raised suspicions about the government’s version of events.
Crime scene investigations later found evidence of so-called extrajudicial killings, which got Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH) involved in an independent investigation.
The commission's report, published Aug. 18, concluded that the cops were never ambushed but instead conducted an operation inside the ranch and hunted down the alleged narcos using a Black Hawk helicopter. According to the commission's findings, at least 22 corpses showed signs of “arbitrary execution,” and at least 5 corpses showed signs of being hit by helicopter fire. The report states “four thousand projectiles” were fired from the helicopter towards a warehouse and a house located inside the property known as “Rancho del Sol.”
The report states police “manipulated” some of the dead bodies and placed weapons next to the corpses to apparently simulate a gun battle. The findings suggest at least one alleged cartel member was burned alive. Ballistic analysis and other methods of investigation revealed that at least 13 people were shot in the back.
“In light of the recent events and on instructions from the President, General Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo has left his position,” Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters Monday. “The objective [of his removal from office] is to facilitate an agile and transparent investigation by the corresponding authorities.”
Osorio Chong said the ousted top cop would be replaced with Manelich Castilla, the head of the Mexican Gendarmerie, a new unit of elite cops.
Galindo is perhaps the highest-ranking official in President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration to take the fall for the series of human rights and security scandals that have shaken Mexico over the past two years. Mexicans were outraged when no top officials were forced to resign over the disappearance of 43 student protesters and the embarrassing prison break of drug lord Chapo Guzmán. Mid-level officials were fired and investigated, cabinet members were shuffled to different posts, but no high-ranking member lost their job over those national scandals.
The firing of Galindo could be a sign that the Mexican government is taking accountability much more seriously.
His removal from office is also reigniting a debate about the lines Mexican armed forces are crossing in an attempt to win the war against drug cartels.
The Mexican army was also involved in a big scandal in 2014 after soldiers allegedly executed presumed criminals inside a warehouse in a town known as Tlatlaya. And a video of Mexican soldiers and cops torturing a woman by asphyxiating her with a bag recently surfaced on social media, prompting several arrests and an official apology from government officials.
The incidents are not only staining the reputation of public security agencies but are also blurring the lines between the tactics employed by criminals and cops.