November 20, 2011

Honduras police corruption continues, November 21

Honduras police purification
Honduras police purification
Cartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

Exposure of criminal cops and other police scandal continues in the news — at least for now — despite efforts by President Lobo to downplay the seriousness of the situation by chastising the public to not "demonize the police" and by vastly overstated claims about the effectiveness of Operación Relámpago [English].

[Note: all links are in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]

Police crimes in the news

Various individuals dressed as police abducted two young people from their home in El Hato, Tegucigalpa.

Witnesses state that two brothers, ages 15 and 17, were taken by suspects dressed as police and driving a police vehicle in La Lima, Cortés. Hours later their bodies were discovered in a sugar cane field, murdered by several shots to the head.

Two suspects dressed as police stopped a young driver claiming that his vehicle was stolen. They were later joined by two more suspects dressed as police. After police confiscated his belongings and prepared to steal the car, the victim yelled that it was an assault. One of the uniformed police told the others "kill that son of a bitch ..." so the young man launched himself into a ditch and then ran away. The thieves took the car but abandoned it before a road block. Hours later it was recovered by the robbery unit of the DNIC.

A policeman was detained in Danlí driving a vehicle reported stolen in Guatemala. Oris Medina Urbina said that he bought the car and can produce papers to prove that.

Subinspector José Manuel Lagos Luna was detained when driving a Toyota Prado reported as stolen in El Salvador. Luna stated that the vehicle belonged to an official assigned in Tegucigalpa. Police are giving no further information.

Two police agents were fired for asking for payment from citizens before attending to a police matter. No details about the circumstances were given and no explanation as to why they were able to fire these agents when generally police authorities claim that "bad cops" cannot be fired unless and until they are convicted. The cases were not sent to MP for prosecution.

Shortly after the detention of a Colombian attempting to transport a suitcase containing US $609,000 in cash to Panamá at the San Pedro airport, Alan Benítez Valle, a subcommissioner of Interpol, was detained under the suspicion that he had allowed another person to pass through with a suitcase containing US $200,000. During the decommission of the money, a prosecutor threatened reporters and photographers that he would take their cameras and break them.

The above sampling shows that bad cops have no fear, despite authorities claims to be purifying the police department and despite the claims that Operation Relampágo is reducing crime significantly.

US Border Patrol agents are working in operativos with Honduran border police in Trujillo, Sabá, San Pedro Sula, La Lima, and El Progreso, none of which are "border" towns of Honduras or the USA.

Finally, La Tribuna reported that 114 agents (of the original 176 reported to be under investigation) [English] removed from the "Cartels" of Belén and La Granja (police stations) are undergoing retraining and receiving motivational chats. The agents will be reassigned to other locations when the chief decides they are ready. Authorities are being very closed mouth about this. Neither this nor any other news reports give any mention of investigations or results and no clue as to what happened to the other 62 agents. Police authorities have issued no further information. Poof! In an instant we've gone from deeply imbedded criminal cop rings, to 114 born again clean cops. If only it were that easy.

More unsolved high profile murders

The body of police agent José Efraín Claros Benítez, assigned to the Belén unit, was identified after 8 days in the morgue. The article does not give a cause of death or indicate whether he was one of the original Belén officers or one of the recent replacements.

Ex-Cobra agent José Paulo Hernández was assassinated in San Pedro by three suspects in a pickup who fled the scene. He was not robbed.

No arrests have been made in the November 7 drive-by assasination of noted attorney Judith Aleman, her driver, and secretary. Reports of video from nearby security cameras may have provided some clues but the police have issued no official statements as to the status of the investigation. Attorney Aleman was reported to have denounced corrupt judges in the past.

In the courts

Santos Arnulfo Padilla Rodríguez, one of the escaped police agents, along with two other policemen, were previously tried in December 2010 for the kidnapping of a North American and his wife and the theft of their vehicle. The case was dismissed and all three suspects were released because the victims did not show up at court to testify — because they had received death threats from the accused. Amazingly, Padilla was still working for the police in October 2011 when he alledgedly was involved in the police abduction and killing of the two university students [English].

Víctor Manuel Zelaya Suazo, accused of pawning police weapons in his custody, was ordered to be held in prison and suspended from his police job, but Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla states that only one witness appeared and that Zelaya could be let free in days if the others don't appear to give their testimony. No mention was made whether the witnesses were receiving any sort of protection or whether they committed any irregularities by pawning the stolen weapons.

A Tegucigalpa police officer is currently on trial for the 2010 attempted murder of a bus driver. The bus apparently grazed a police vehicle and kept going. Police agent Luis Enrique Pineda chased the bus and alledgedly shot the driver.

Magistrate Jacobo Calix says that 26 judges were removed during 2009-2010. Some were dismissed for being denounced for acts of corruption or for granting substitute measures (release on bail)rather than incarceration pending trial , which is prohibited by law in organized crime cases. About a year ago, the Congress emitted a decree that only the President of the Supreme Court had the power to name or remove judges rather than the full 15-member court. Since that time, Calix says there have been irregularities in the appointment and removal of judges, including a judge who should have been removed but was arbitrarily given a suspension of 3 months. Some of those appointed to the judiciary failed to pass the selection process involving a competency examination but were appointed anyway and have been allowed another opportunity to retake the test. He reported that the Civil Court in Tegucigalpa includes at least three judges who failed the examination but are still presiding and that two of them are the most denounced judges in the system.

In what La Tribuna calls "a slap in the face for freedom of the press", a tribunal of three judges, one of them a former DNIC agent, aquitted three DNIC agents of abuse of power and illegal detention of a La Tribuna reporter who was taken into custody in February 2009 because police agents were annoyed that he was photographing an accident scene. The reporter was intimidated by holding a gun to his head, assaulted, and thrown into the back of a police vehicle then continued to be illegally detained at the police station even after the prosecutor ordered his release. The judges noted in their decision that the reporter was exercising his journalistic activities wearing socks and sandals. (Bad dress is justification for police assault?)

Within the upper police ranks

The MP (prosecutor's office) has subpoenaed the top police authorities to determine whether there were irregularities which could result in criminal responsibility in the release of the four suspects or other irregular aspects of the investigation of the murders of two university students. Unfortunately, the Human Rights Fiscal seems to be focusing on the premature release of their names rather than the physical release of the police agents. Since the agents were in custody of the police, releasing the names did not tip them off to flee.

Honduran police guarding top copCommissioner of the National Police José Ramírez del Cid arrived to give his formal declaracion accompanied by more than 20 armed police and an attorney. Were they there to guard him or to intimidate the prosecutors?

After only two months in that position, official police spokesman Silvio Inestroza was replaced with Héctor Iván Mejía, who had previously served as spokesperson. Inestroza was rotated to Inspector General of the special investigation services unit (DNSEI). El Heraldo predicts that there will be other changes in the police leadership, even though it has only been 15 days since the last shakeup. EH reports that there was dissastisfaction within the National Internal Security Commission (CONASIN) with the recent nominations. Sources state that the Minister of Security has submitted a list of five commissioners to the MP (prosecutors) to confirm whether or not there are any criminal investigations against them.

Nothing new

As shocking as all of this and my previous article show the situation is, individual and organized criminal acts committed by police are nothing new. In fact an exposé of criminal cops in the very same "Cartel de Belén" police unit was reported at least as far back as 2007 and was allowed by authorities to continue until 2011. In the next article, I'll show that the authorities have known and done virtually nothing for many years as police scandal after scandal have been reported and later swept under the rug with a complete lack of transparency from the government as to the danger in which the public had been placed.

For more on crime and police scandal in Honduras, click the "crime" topic below.
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