Mexico rights bodies allege abuses by ex-top cop

November 17, 2011 - 9:55 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A former police chief in the border city of Tijuana and several subordinates violated the human rights of suspects and broke the law by torturing people in custody, state human rights officials charged Thursday.

Baja California state's Human Rights Commission and human rights prosecutor made the accusation in a report on the allegations against former chief Julian Leyzaola and others.

The commission said Leyzaola has been summoned to appear before a state judge in the case. The rights body has the power to issue nonbinding recommendations and to refer cases to prosecutors.

Leyzaola, a retired army lieutenant colonel, become known nationally as a tough cop after cracking down on police corruption and drug gang violence in Tijuana. He resigned the Tijuana post in November 2010, but his success there spurred another violence-wracked border city, Ciudad Juarez, to hire him as police chief last March.

In both cities, Leyzaola or his subordinates have been dogged by accusations of abuse.

Leyzaola released a written statement saying the four men cited by the rights commission were corrupt police officers who had assaulted and robbed a Korean man and they had to be subdued when they resisted arrest. Leyzaola said he himself had suffered blows during the scuffle in March 2010.

"We had to control and detain them," he wrote. "They are on trial because they are criminals ... the Korean they assaulted identified them, and a taxi driver identified them for what they are: criminals."

Leyzaola said he would file an appeal to the findings, so he can get his side of the story heard.

The Baja California rights ombudsman charged that in August 2009, Leyzaola and other officers tortured five people suspected of killing police.

Leyzaola also denied those allegations and called them part of a campaign to smear him.

There have been earlier allegations against Leyzaola but he has not been formally charged.

Several police officers who were charged in early 2009 with helping drug traffickers said Leyzaola or other officers dropped them off at a military base where they were beaten, nearly asphyxiated or forced to endure electric shocks to their genitals. Leyzaola has denied those accusations.

In Ciudad Juarez, rights activists say that last March, officers from one of the city's elite police units kidnapped four young men whose bodies were found later in a vacant lot. Leyzaola has pledged to investigate that case.

Many Mexican mayors and local police chiefs refuse to confront drug kingpins, saying it is the federal government's job to fight organized crime. Leyzaola, 51, broke with that pattern during his tenure as Tijuana, forging an unusually close relationship with the military, sharing intelligence as they pursued the same targets. He slept at an army base in downtown Tijuana, sometimes after nights of cruising the city to "hunt" for criminals, as he put it.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this month that accused the Mexican government of torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in its war against organized crime.

The report outlines misconduct at all levels of authority, from prosecutors who give detainees prewritten confessions for signing to medical examiners who classify beatings and electric shock as causing minor injuries.

Only 15 soldiers have been convicted out of the 3,671 investigations conducted by military prosecutors into alleged human rights violations by soldiers against civilians from 2007 to June 2011, according to the report. Not a single soldier or state official has been convicted in any of more than 200 cases Human Rights Watch documented in the report.

Earlier Thursday, federal officials announced that soldiers captured a suspected leader for the Zetas drug cartel during a horse race that he organized in the northern state of Zacatecas.

A statement from the Defense Department and Attorney General's Office said Alfredo Aleman Narvaez, who was detained Tuesday was known as "Comandante Aleman."

Aleman Narvaez is accused of trafficking marijuana in Mexico and the United States from his base in San Luis Potosi state.

An attack blamed on the Zetas last February killed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata and wounded agent Victor Avila on a highway in that state. Mexican officials did not say if they suspect Aleman Narvaez of involvement in the attack.