MEXICO CITY (AP) — A judge ruled Monday that 12 police officers accused of opening fire on a U.S. embassy vehicle and wounding two embassy employees should remain in detention in an incident that has roiled U.S./Mexican relations and drawn fresh attention to serious problems inside Mexico’s premier law-enforcement agency.
Mexican and U.S. officials have offered sketchy official accounts of the shooting that do not address the possible reason why Mexican federal police opened fire on an armored sport-utility vehicle with diplomatic license plates carrying a Mexican Navy captain and two employees of the country’s closest ally.
The federal police officers were ordered detained under a form of house arrest for 40 days on suspicion of abusing their authority. That charge can entail both criminal wrongdoing and extreme negligence. That leaves open the possibility of both a deliberate attack on the Americans by corrupt officers and a gross error by well-intentioned but trigger-happy police operating in a dangerous area.
Experts said that either scenario was cause for pessimism about the federal police, which has long been touted as the best hope for Mexico’s gaining control of its struggle with organized crime.
“We’re looking at another example of why there’s significant concern over how Mexico has gone about training its federal police,” said Samuel Logan, director of the security consulting firm Southern Pulse.
Mexican municipal and state police are seen as widely corrupt, incompetent or both. Military troops have been accused of an increasing number of human rights violations since President Felipe Calderon sent them into the streets in late 2006. Largely as a result, Mexico’s government has made a large-scale effort in recent years to retrain the federal police, purge its ranks of corrupt officers and increase its numbers from 6,000 to more than 35,000 officers.
“They have been pushed to do a lot in a very short time and they are recruiting a lot of young people and they try to push them through the training process very quickly to use new equipment, and to handle new intelligence and to handle operations that are probably better handled by well-seasoned veterans,” said Dr. Tony Payan, an expert on Mexico’s effort to combat drug cartels and visiting fellow at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
The reputation of the federal police suffered serious damage in June after two federal police officers fatally shot three colleagues at Mexico City’s international airport. Authorities said the shooters were part of a trafficking ring that flew in cocaine from Peru. Mexico announced this month that it was replacing 348 federal police assigned to security details at the airport in an effort to quash drug trafficking through the terminal.
Last year, a businessman from Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, accused a group of 10 federal police officers of beating him, torturing him and driving him around town. They released him when he said he would get the money they were demanding.
But instead of getting the cash, used auto parts businessman Eligio Ibarra Amador went to authorities and the federal agents were detained.
In April, Ibarra was stabbed to death inside his home, which was then set on fire. Assailants killed the businessman a day before he was to attend a judicial hearing to ratify his accusation against the officers.
In the case involving the embassy vehicle, U.S. and Mexican officials declined requests for comment on Monday.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said Monday that two U.S. government employees and a Mexican Navy captain were heading to a training facility outside the city of Cuernavaca when they were ambushed by a group of gunmen that included federal police. The Mexican government said federal police were conducting unspecified law-enforcement activities in the rural, mountainous area known for criminal activity when they came upon the car, which attempted to flee and came under fire from gunmen in four vehicles including federal police.
Both countries have declined to offer further details, but experts said the incident would almost certainly affect the thinking of President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who has promised to both double the ranks of the current federal police and start a new paramilitary force known as the gendarmerie composed of former military members operating under civilian command.
Observers have predicted that the creation of the new force will increase tensions between the many agencies currently responsible for law-enforcement and public security in Mexico.
“The federal police have been busy for six years creating this image of the federal police as Mexico’s modern police force, a police force that responded to a high set of standards, that was well-trained, well-vetted,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former official in Mexico’s CISEN intelligence agency . “Clearly the next administration will want to look closely at internal controls. This does not strengthen the case against a new national police force.”
A Pena Nieto spokesman declined to comment on the case.
Since 2008, the U.S. government has given $243 million in equipment and $25 million in technical assistance and training to the federal police under the drug-war aid program known as the Merida Initiative.
Under Merida, the State Department says more than 4,300 federal police have completed training at Mexico’s Federal Police Academy in San Luis Potosi. Taught by law enforcement professionals from the U.S., Colombia, Spain, Canada, and the Czech Republic, the program includes criminal investigative techniques, evidence collection, crime scene preservation, and ethics.
Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat closely involved in U.S./Mexican-relations, urged U.S. taxpayers to be patient with the development of Mexican law enforcement.
“We’re seeing that in Afghanistan, Iraq, the training part of it does take a while,” he said. “I am optimistic that Mexicans want to have a peaceful existence where they’re free of drug violence. We need to have a long-term commitment and we need to understand it’s going to be years.”
Associated Press writer Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, Calif., contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- Illinois' fracking and coal rush is a national crisis
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11