"My son was playing on his bicycle in the middle of a gun fight. There was nothing I could do to save his life!" cried the grieving father at the funeral of 8-year-old gun shot victim Tony Jafet Rodríguez Espinoza. He said that his son was in the street when three vehicles suddenly pulled up, surrounding the child, and began shooting. He ran out among the bullets to rescue his child but it was too late.
In La Ceiba, a Tuesday afternoon shoot-out between police and 10 suspects, some dressed as police left four suspected gang members dead. Also killed during the crossfire were an innocent 16-year-old and 8-year-old Tony. Local TV news reported that a 4-year-old was run over, but that was not confirmed in later reports. At least one other civilian and a police agent were injured. Several auto accidents resulted from the police chase from near the port road on to the east boulevard through several colonias, including Lempira, Sierra Pina, Alvarado, Bella Vista, and Carmen Elena and on south to the highway. In Carmen Elena, muros of several houses were marked by bullet holes. Suspects abandoned their vehicle and stole another near the Texaco station on the highway near the Saopin bridge, where the highway was blocked and another shoot-out occurred. Two other gang members were captured in a house where police discovered police vests, explosives, and the body of another gang member.
One of the suspect victims had been detained for several weeks after being involved in another police-gang shoot out lasting about 6 hours in colonia Miramar — but he had been recently released. Police appear to be planning to close many open cases by claiming this group of La Ceiba gang members were responsible for everything from attacking police stations in San Pedro Sula to bank robberies, murders, pawn shop robberies, assaulting other businesses, auto thefts, etc. Tidy.
Diario Tiempo reports that Operación Relámpago has not commenced in La Ceiba, which has the highest murder rate in the country and an average of three business robberies per day. Police road blocks, however, are a daily occurence so at least we can feel secure that everyone is driving with a current driver's license.
There has not been one hint of police accepting responsibility for the innocent lives lost, injuries, or property damange as a result of reckless and irresponsible police actions. A few days later, four police were seriously injured in another reckless chase through the streets of La Ceiba.
Continuing the police-involved incidents since last week
In Saba, a vehicle in which three young people were returning from a baby shower was chased and then shot at by police agents Odis Sabio y Roberto Ferman Paisano. At least three bullets passed through the vehicle and a 25-year-old woman passenger was shot in the back. The agents, along with subinspector José Muñoz and agents Junior Vallecillo, José Herrera, and Javier Tercero, initially refused to transport the injured victim to a hospital but later relented. Friends and family arriving at the hospital were indignant and demanded action against the police. Sabio and Ferman were charged and the other four are being held. A family member who wouldn't give his name for fear of repisals said, "Here we have more fear of the police than the criminals".
Police agent Wilmer Alexander Zavala was presented to the court for the October murder of a 16-year-old in the capital. Judges ordered a "judicial detention" pending the initial hearing scheduled for November 28. Zavala confronted two minors in the street, grabbed one by the neck and shot him causing instant death. The other boy fled. The police report gives no motive for the murder.
Twenty armed men, at least two of whom were dressed as police, assaulted a house in El Mogote, Yoro, in what police called a dispute over territory between two criminal bands. The shootout lastest for more than an hour beginning at 5:15 am on November 22. Four people died and two others were injured. A survivor said that the confrontation was a result of a 21-year feud between families. The witnesses said that the authorities are involved with the other family and that even a helicopter was flying over their house.
Miguel Ángel Perdomo Pineda, a soldier in the Honduran armed forces, was arrested for a 2006 murder in La Campera, Lempira, on an arrest order that was issued in November 2006. It is not known how he was able to enlist in the army with an outstanding murder warrant.
Salvadoran trucks drivers have denounced that they are extorted by police
El Jicarito, Choluteca, and Santa Ana, Francisco Morazán, and required to pay up to US $100 to police continue transporting goods through Honduras. A businessman in the area also confirmed that Salvadoran tourists often complain about being extorted by the police for bribes.
Police sub-official José Lázaro Herrera Portillo with 18 years service was assassinated in La Paz. Ex-DNIC agent Josué Herminio Medina was assassinated and then his body was burned inside a vehicle left in an area of Santa Barbara known for dumping bodies.
Diario Tiempo reports that police have a report showing that Comisario Fredesbindo Bonilla Bustillo, who was kidnapped and assassinated in August, had only hours previously denounced the corruption and band of criminals within La Granja police station. On September 1, authorities previously accused gang members of the crime.
US police captured Honduran ex-subcomisario Jairo López Méndez who was wanted for a 2008 L. 7 million bank robbery in Gracias, Lempira. López is thought to have been the leader of a band of robbers, to whom he provided police uniforms. In October 2008, police decommissioned several vehicles registered in his name and indicated that he was being investigated for several crimes including paid assassination. According to US authorities, López also has connections with the criminal group Los Zetas of Mexico. Another police agent along with 10 civilians were already serving time for the bank robbery. In an interesting note, the unit in which López served in San Pedro was temporarily closed down and all the agents were investigated and reassigned to "purify" the police in 2008. At that time, as now, police assured the public that there was not the least intention to tolerate any illegal act from the highest commissioner to the lowest level of police.
Three police assigned to Operación Xatruch in Bajo Aguan were detained for drinking alcohol during work hours. Their weapons were decommissioned but there was no mention of charges being filed.
Stopped for speeding, a solider, Pedro Gabriel Mejía Carías, assigned to the honor guard of the President in Tegucigalpa, was detained in the middle of the night in San Pedro Sula with a M-16 and a 9 mm gun, both property of the state for which he had no documentation. Authorities were investigating what he was doing in the north of the country. He was released the next day by prosecutors after military officials presented the weapon documentation. Interestingly, a government email clarification was sent out in which the Honor Guard denounces the actions of the police, particularly the chief in San Pedro, for reporting this to the media, stating that Mejía was on official duty in San Pedro, an assignment to protect an unnamed dignitary. Odd.
Interpol agent Allan Benítez Valle, who was suspected of assisting a Colombian in exporting US $200,000 via the San Pedro airport, was released by judges for lack of evidence in the initial hearing of the charge of money laundering.
Antonio Alvarez Izaguirre, member of the Cobra unit, was accused of pawning his police weapon. The agent was released by the court after the initial hearing whereupon he angrily threatened to come looking for the news photographer if his photo was published in the newspaper.
Tegucigalpa police agent Luis Henrique Pineda Castillo, assigned to Los Dolores, along with two civilian, was captured in the act of extorting a citizen. The case has been sent to the prosecutors.
La Kennedy, another pus-filled police station
La Tribuna published an exposé of the Kennedy police station in Tegucigalpa in which a criminal "mafia" of police agents is run by a police authority known as El Diablo (the devil). After publishing the original story about El Diablo, Tribuna has received dozens of citizens complaints and information about police extortion of "impuesto de guerra" (war tax), outright robbery of residents' money and cellphones, involvement with gangs and drug houses, auto thefts, and up to murders and disappearances of young people who have been "captured" by the police, only to show up dead later.
Residents of the area claim that they have witnessed murders and recognized police as the assassins. In one case, several witnesses watched as a local police removed a weapon and other evidence from a dead body before DNIC investigators arrived. In another case, police stole a victim's car and the following day, he received a call saying he could have it back if he paid L. 80,000. Witnesses even report cases of the police killing other police agents who didn't cooperate. Human rights groups have denounced the Kennedy police post but no investigations have occurred. One resident who did go to complain to the chief in charge that day was told to get out there if he didn't want to disappear. Residents feel defenseless and impotent.
As much as authorities would like us to believe that there are "only a few bad apples" within only a few police stations, that is obviously not the case. A "bad apple" might be careless in his duties or ask for bribe at a transit stop. Murderers, extortionists, auto thieves, drug dealers, and kidnappers are not "bad apples"; they are criminals.
The latest from authorities
Authorities have announced the suspension of 32 police agents, including two comisarios and one sub-commissioner for supposed illicit acts. No names or duty locations were given to reporters. Similarly no information was given as to whether these were civil or criminal acts, or whether they were related to the 100 or so Belén and La Granja agents who refused to report to the Cobras or related to older cases. For that matter, the public does not even know what exactly is meant by 'suspension' since in other cases that only meant that the agents were transferred to another duty assignment and are still wearing uniforms and carrying guns. This is not fair to the public who has a genuine fear of the police. They have a right to know and the government has a moral responsibility to let the public know. This is not transparency.
Former police spokesman Silvio Inestroza told Diario El Tiempo that two of the arrested murder suspects, Santos Arnulfo Padilla Rodríguez and Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez have been investigated for hired assassination, kidnapping, extortion, vehicle theft, and other organized crime activities — yet they continued to wear the uniform and carry guns, which they used to murder two university students.
Hundreds of police agents are "stampeding" from the department, some because they are embarrassed about what is happening and others because they fear being caught. This is primarily in the metropolitan areas where so much corruption and scandal has been exposed. The police were already short-handed because of so many agents under investigation.
National Director of the Police, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, made the incredible comment that they are transferring agents from one location to another to purify the police. Police spokesman Héctor Iván Mejía said that the police organization is infiltrated by criminals, but went on to say that purification should be gradual. But nothing shows the hopelessness of the situation quite like this interview with Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla.
Repeating what they have always done in the past shows that authorities don't even understand the definition of the word 'purification', much less have any idea of how to go about it. What they actually are doing is systematically contaminating other areas by assigning dirty cops to them, not to mention putting lives and property of the public knowingly at risk — all because the collective government ego cannot admit just how out of control the police are.
Juan Arnaldo Hernandez, member of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) committee studying the police corruption issue, reiterated yesterday, "The police are the most dangerous criminal group in the country". The UNAH committee is proposing international intervention, saying that the police are incapable of investigating and purifying themselves.
Why report this depressing stuff?
I think it is important to compile and document how serious, invasive, and continuing the problem of police corruption is in Honduras. Hondurans needs international help; it's not going to be solved from within the same corrupt police department. Local online news includes articles almost every day of new incidents — I can't keep up! — but coverage in English has been slim and inaccurate. The fact that so many incidents are still occurring, at a time when the police are under the microscope, and at a time when Operación Relámpago is in full swing, shows that bad police have no fear of punishment and that empty threats of purification have not slowed them down. Criminal police acts are not only occurring in the "Cartels" of Belén and La Granja as authorities would like us to believe, but all over the country.
I know that I promised to show you that criminal police and police corruption is nothing new. I will do that, but other things have come up in the meantime. I should never say, "in the next article"!
Shake up in Honduras police
The two murders that brought this scandal to the forefront: Two university students
And for more on the out-of-control crime situation in Honduras: crime