November 11, 2011

Police crime and corruption

Poll: How much credibility do the police have for you?
None, 85%; Little, 13%; Much, 2%
Images: Diario El Tiempo, Honduras

[All links are in Spanish unless otherwise noted]

Last Friday, police spokesman Silvio Inestroza said that he was confident that many of the 100 or so police agents missing from La Granja police station had not reported to the command of Cobra unit for investigation and special retraining because they are sick, on their days off, or on vacation. Half of those who did report were currently off for the weekend. The chief of the Cobras stated that is normal because they are not in a condition of detention and are entitled to their salaries and days off. Director Carlos Aguilera Mendoza stated that the high authorities weren't sure whether the agents will return on Monday.

Interestingly, no mention was made in the news this week about whether or not the missing officers reported to the Cobra unit on Monday. These are part of the 176 police agents erroneously reported by international media as having been "arrested".

The "Cartels" de Belén and La Granja

El Heraldo's investigative unit has exposed another putrid police district which they call the "Cartel de Belén". Belén is one of the largest police districts in Tegucigalpa and covers an area with many illegal drug, weapons, and sex businesses as well as 'chop shops' where stolen cars are dismantled. In order to avoid problems with the police, both illegal and legal businesses such as taxi stands pay an impuesto de guerra to police.

Through access to intelligence reports, El Heraldo connects the murder on Tuesday of police agent Juan Carlos García Flores with his "violation of the police code". García is said to have reported by name an intermediate police official in La Granja who pays L.100,000 per month (about US $5,200) to a higher authority within the police in order to keep his job. It's an exorbitant amount considering that base pay for an entry-level police agent is about US $320 per month, but easily accumulated through the "war tax" and by getting cuts of extortions and other illegal activities. Additional, El Heraldo reports that there is an established fee for returning confiscated weapons to criminals rather than officially reporting them.

One report indicated that patrol vehicles were followed and police agents were observed unable to even stand up after leaving known drug houses. The report establishes that corrupt Belén agents have to pay L.180,000 (about US $9,500) to a higher official to maintain their jobs due to that area being more lucrative than La Granja.

Police have not found the four missing police agents accused of being involved with the murder of the two university students [in English]. One of missing, Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez, was accused by his brother of killing his own father. It has been revealed that there were other 'unresolved' investigations in Internal Affairs against these same agents.

Missing weapons

After police weapons were found in Tegucigalpa pawn shops, Minister Bonilla has ordered an inventory of all police issued and confiscated weapons, including makes, models, and serial numbers. [What a novel concept!] La Tribuna has confirmed through pawn contracts that the weapons were pawned by the officer in charge of the Belén bodega, Víctor Zelaya Suazo. One of the pawn shop owners stated that the officer would say that he was pawning the guns at the order of his captain. Zelaya Suazo was indicted on Friday and ordered to be held in prison pending trial.

But in another exposé, El Heraldo reported that no one in the police or prosecutor's office can answer where are the 3,000 prohibited weapons (many of them AK-47s) confiscated during former President Ricardo Maduro's 2003 campaign to register legal guns and remove illegal guns from circulation. Credible sources within the police say the weapons are missing. [summary in English] The policeman in charge of the Cobra bodega has disappeared and a denuncia has been filed that he was murdered to prevent him from testifying which functionary had ordered the removal of the weapons.

The murder of a DNIC inspector in La Lima is also suspected to have been a result of his investigation of robbery of arms. Other missing guns have also been reported in the news, 40 from the police academy and 32 from the prosecutor's office. No one has ever been held responsible in any of these or other cases of missing weapons. The Minister of Security has named a commision to investigate all of the missing weapons.

Unresolved Internal Affairs investigations

La Prensa revealed a long standing Internal Affairs investigation of sub-commissioner Jorge Alberto Barralaga, currently being considered for criminal charges for the release of the four murder suspects. Barralaga was accused of commandeering 80 police from other divisions for 16 hours for the inauguration of a municipal building in Copán, possibly this narco mayor's White House look-alike [in English]. He falsely claimed that he was acting on orders from his superior and later paid each of the officers L.1,000 in cash. Commissioner Juan Carlos ("the tiger") Bonilla submitted the report to higher authorities in March 2011. No action was taken. Barralaga was later transferred from Copán to La Granja in Tegucigalpa in October and Bonilla was castigated for "disrespecting superior officers" by submitting the report. La Prensa indicated that this is not the only Internal Affairs investigation of Barralaga not acted upon.

Other police "complications"

Former district commissioner over La Granja, Einer Moncada Martínez, has been reassigned to the Statistics Unit pending investigation by the Fiscal of his possible involvement with organized crime. Unofficially, La Tribuna was told that Moncada had fled, but this was denied by a police spokesman.

No mas impunidadCommissioner Danilo Orellana admitted that it was uniformed officers who assaulted a congressman and stripped him of his belongings, including a luxury vehicle, and that police officials did not take action on the complaint at the time. Previously, officials had denied any police involvement in this case on national television.

Three police agents from El Progreso were released on substitute measures yesterday after one of them "accidentally" shot a citizen on Tuesday and the other two attempted to cover up the action.

Two police agents were "put at the disposition of the prosecutor" for what was vaguely reported as "bad procedures" related to the arrest of four taxi thieves.

On Friday, a 15-year-old tortilla vendor bravely denouced being assaulted and robbed of L.550 (about US $29) while being detained by three police agents, whom he identified at the police station. The agents were indicted and are supposed to be translated to Tamara prison pending trial. The three police agents were assigned to the purified Belén station mentioned above.

Another police killing

The May 2011 drive-by assassination of Raúl Reyes Carbajal, coordinator of prosecutors in Puerto Cortés, has been connected to DNIC (criminal investigation) police agent Walter Zepeda Ramos. Fiscal Reyes was investigating certain police who were being paid up to L.30,000 for permitting crimes. Zepeda had previously been accused of murder in February 2009 but was released on "substitute measures" and apparently was able to continue with the police department until 2010. Zepeda supposedly abandoned the police and fled in August 2010 with his badge and weapon after an unexecuted order of capture was finally issued for the 2009 homicide. The day following Reyes' murder, Zepeda, using his police badge, questioned neighbors in the area of the crime as to whether they had seen anything. A few weeks later Zepeda was said to have been murdered because the victim's body was found to be carrying his badge and regulation weapon. However, an investigation accessed by La Prensa establishes that the agent is still alive and active within the police department. Failure of Puerto Cortés authorities to advance in the investigation resulted in personnel from Tegucigalpa being assigned to the case.

Phantom operativos

Honduran police operativosBy order of Commissioner of the National Police, Tegucigalpa authorities have designed a plan to avoid unauthorized "phantom operativos" such as the one in which the two university students were murdered. All road stops will be supervised by an official and will include a minimum of eight agents. Police will be identified by yellow vests and police traffic cones. Tegucigalpa citizens were asked to denounce suspicious road stops by calling Subcommissioner Rony Flores Díaz on his cellphone at 9910-8953. (Later two additional numbers were added, 2222-SEGU for cell phones and 800-2222-SEGU for land lines, but media have reported and demonstrated on television that there is no answer at these numbers.)

Flores says that it has been the custom of police agents to execute operativos without authorization. In the past, individual police posts or agents have performed illegal road stops in order to extort drivers for trumped up charges which they then offer to overlook for a price. These measures will later be implemented at a national level

Honest forces within the police and justice system appear to be leaking very damaging reports to the media. It appears that long-pending investigations are coming to light after months and years of inaction by the government.
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