How would Celín Pinot Hernández, an inmate serving 9 years in the maximum security prison of Honduras, come to be dressed in a Honduran police uniform and carrying a police weapon? Why was he obviously posed for this photo, appearing uncomfortable and perhaps frightened that those directing him might actually pull the trigger? His expression is definitely not one of a cocky gang member showing off for the camera. Who would have the power to force a supposed dangerous gang leader to pose like this? Why would a dangerous criminal sentenced to nine years be released from maximum security prison by officials at 7 pm (or some say 11 pm) at night?
The above were all questions that I had when I was sent this photo a few weeks ago along with the story and a link to a YouTube video. I was told that the Honduran media had been given the photos and story but weren't going to run them. The person who sent them to me was afraid to tell me too much more.
The Miami Herald article discussed in my previous article "Corruption within the upper echelons of the Honduran police" touches on the case of Celin Pinot:
"The U.S. aid allocation included $2.5 million to help fund a maximum security prison. Among the inmates who were sent there: Celin Eduardo Pinot Hernández, aka “Cabeza,” leader of the notorious 18th Street Gang.Celin Pinot's death was reported in the Honduran media here, here, and here [in Spanish], and questions were raised about his release but never answered.
"For an inmate, Pinot had pretty good perks. He had a cell phone and was regularly let out to run drugs and visit his various girlfriends. Photos show him at the lockup in a police uniform and sporting a gun.
“For the past two and a half years, he was always let out at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and, if not, on weekends,” a childhood friend of his told The Miami Herald. “He was doing business for the boss — drugs, weapons. He would deliver drugs and bring money. ”
“The boss,” his friend says, was the high-ranking cop who runs prisons.
"In Honduras, managing prisons is one of the most lucrative jobs in the hierarchy of the National Police. Inmates pay bribes for everything from phones to freedom and are let out to commit more crimes at the behest of their captors, people familiar with the practice say.
"After spending his nine-year sentence doing illegal bidding for police buddies, Pinot, 30, was released on Oct. 13. He was immediately gunned down, felled by gunshots a few hundred yards from the prison gate. [This is not correct, he had only served two years of the nine year sentence.]
"Two women who had come to pick him up and take him home that evening told human rights activists that they saw police officers do it. A few days later, the police officer who usually accompanied Pinot on his get-out-of-jail outings was also murdered. Then one of the witnesses to Pinot’s killing was stoned to death. The other vanished.
“It’s very difficult to investigate the jails,” said Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce. “They tend to self-govern. There are inmates with de facto authority.”
"Ponce said her office is looking into Pinot’s death, because there were enough “irregularities” to suggest law enforcement involvement, including the fact that he was released from prison at night, an unusual move that helped make the surprise attack easier.
"Prisons director Danilo Orellana insisted he has cleaned up the jails and that escapes, murders and crime are all on the decline, despite widespread overcrowding and a lack of resources. He said he had heard rumors that Pinot was sometimes let out, but denied that prisoners regularly go on drug runs.
“I can tell you that during my term, it isn’t happening. The jails have changed a lot,” Orellana said. “I put my hand on the fire for myself. I do my things correctly.”
"Because this is Honduras, Pinot’s case didn’t cause a ripple in the news media. ..."
Along with another gang member, Pinot was arrested in July 2009 [in Spanish] after abducting a businessman and his luxurious vehicle. At the time of arrest, he was also in possession of a DNIC (police criminal investigation) shirt and two police issued bullet-proof vests indicating he might have had police connections prior to his prison time. Investigators claimed that he was also involved involved with the murder by machetes of three women and had been charged with murder in 2001 and attempted murder in 2003. No information was reported about whether or not he had been tried for those cases or whether or not he had previously served time. Police described him as extremely dangerous and said he was linked to a series of kidnappings, extortions, and murders in Tegucigalpa. In this case, according to news reports, Pinot was found guilty of numerous charges, including attempted kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and was ordered to serve nine years in prison.
On July 6, 2011, he was one of the first prisoners transferred to the newly opened maximum security prison due to being considered extremely dangerous and possibly involved with the murders of other inmates at the Tamara prison.
But on the night of October 13, 2011, both Pinot, alias Cabeza, and his accomplice in the July 2009 crime, Neptalí Coello Flores, alias "Lágrima", were murdered in a rain of bullets only 500 meters away from the prison minutes after being released by authorities. Investigators collected more than 60 bullet casings of different calibers, including AK-47. Police had no other clues and presumably, "the case is still under investigation".
Perhaps they were killed by rival gang members as the police speculated off the record to reporters, but you might wonder how rival gang members could have known that they would be released on that day and at that unusual time. The idea of a heavily armed rival gang hanging around outside a maximum security prison for hours without notice is a little farfetched. Perhaps police were angry at his release and took vigilante justice into their own hands. Or perhaps these criminals had served their usefulness to police authorities and needed to be silenced.
My source says that the photo at top was taken a few days before Pinot was released and killed. The photo at right is another one that was taken inside the prison. The photo below is an older ID or mug shot photo which was previously published by La Tribuna.
My source also stated that Pinot was regularly allowed out of prison on Tuesdays and Thursdays to do drug runs for Ramírez del Cid, National Director of the Police, and Danilo Orellano, Commissioner of Special Preventative Services which is in charge of the prison system.
My source told me that a police chauffeur who regularly drove Pinot on drug runs was murdered a few days later, as was Pinot's girlfriend, who along with two other women, claimed that they saw police kill the released inmates. The second woman disappeared, leaving behind a 5-month old nursing baby and is presumed to be dead. The third was arrested but Human Rights was able to get her released before anything happened to her and she is now in hiding.
The YouTube video called "El Tiky: Ascenso de un Criminal en Honduras" (El Tiky: The rise of a Criminal in Honduras) was uploaded by a group called Frente Civil por la Paz y Seguridad who seems to have no other internet presence. It strongly accuses Ramírez del Cid (who they call El Tiky) of being a loyal pawn of organized crime and gives specific cases, including assassinations, in which Ramírez is alleged to have been involved. The video claims that the assassination of Celin Pinot was done with the collusion of Danilo Orellana. It also makes claims of past corruption of Minister Pompeyo Bonilla and asks President Lobo to open his eyes and look for new security leaders.
In curt interviews today, both Minister Bonilla and Commission Ramírez del Cid rejected the charges reported in the Miami Herald article.
Prior to the publication of the Miami Herald article, on Friday US Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske [in Spanish] admitted to reporters that there were many rumors surrounding the police leadership. She classified as urgent the need for purification of the police department.
So there you have it. I doubt that we'll ever know how much is true and how much is not.
See also "More on Celín Pinot Hernández" for more information.