MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities in western Mexico arrested three police officers, including the commissioner, and took over their local police department Friday in connection with the alleged beating death of a man in police custody.
The killing of Giovanni López in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco last month spurred violent protests in Guadalajara Thursday evening.
Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfaro called the killing an “atrocity” and promised to clear up the case, but also asserted that the sudden backlash was politically motivated.
A video circulated on social media this week shows a man being wrestled into a police vehicle while onlookers shout at police that he had done nothing wrong. One of the witnesses asked police if it was because he wasn’t wearing a mask — a requirement under the state’s pandemic measures.
Alfaro said the initial investigation showed the arrest was not about López not wearing a mask.
“This invention, this story that they wanted to construct with political ends to create more indignation that Giovanni was murdered for not wearing a mask is a lie,” Alfaro said.
He said López was detained May 4 in the town south of Guadalajara for a misdemeanor equivalent to disturbing the peace or resisting arrest. Hours later he was taken from his cell for medical attention and died.
The governor also made clear who he thinks “they” were. Alfaro blamed President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s people. The governor and president — political opponents — have taken shots at each other since the start of the epidemic. Alfaro has pushed for stricter social distancing rules — required masks — something López Obrador’s interior minister suggested contributed to López’s death.
López Obrador responded Friday morning that he had nothing to do with it and that it was a state and local matter. He warned Alfaro to “watch your words.”
Such police brutality is common in Mexico, where under-resourced departments breed corruption and often have links to organized crime. Extrajudicial killings are rarely punished. The strong reaction to López’s death appeared to be propelled at least partly by international condemnation of the killing of George Floyd, a black man suffocated by a white police officer in Minneapolis, whose agonizing death was video recorded by witnesses.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Guadalajara Thursday, demanding justice for López. Six police officers were injured, including one who was burned and several police vehicles were set on fire. Police made 28 arrests.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the killing and called on authorities to “send a clear and unequivocal message that human rights violations in the implementation of emergency measures during the pandemic will not be tolerated.”
Jalisco state prosecutor Gerardo Solís said Friday that his office was investigating whether police had arrested López that night with the intention of handing him over to organized crime. He noted there were a lot of problems with that police department, including keeping a number of police on the payroll who had not passed screenings. He also said there was an open investigation against the town’s mayor, which he did not detail.
Solía noted that López had a criminal history with state and federal charges, which he did not explain. He said that would not make any difference in how the state investigated his death.
Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos lies within territory controlled by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, one of the country’s most powerful and violent.