Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Twelve dead in Mexican Disco Raid

"Mexico's government is under new pressure to tackle rampant police incompetence after a damning report by human rights investigators blamed police commanders for a fatal disco raid that killed 12 people. Mexico City's police chief, Joel Ortega, and top prosecutor Rodolfo Felix quit on Tuesday after human rights officials said police "brutality" led to nine youths and three officers being crushed to death during a June 20 raid on underage drinkers in a club in the capital. Video images of teenagers being squashed by a wall of police pressing in on the disco's small doorway have triggered furious protests and shone an embarrassing light on police ineptness just as Washington is sending $400 million to help Mexico's police and army battle drug gangs.

Mexico City's human rights ombudsman, Emilio Alvarez, said "concerted" police actions caused the tragedy and accused officials of chopping out bits of video evidence from the disco, which grieving relatives have turned into a shrine... video footage of police pushing on the crowd of moaning youths and then milling around and failing to administer first aid to victims writhing on the ground have dealt a blow to President Felipe Calderon's efforts to improve the image of the country's notoriously bungling cops...

"Police actions, decisions and the true objectives of the operation created a trap that cost lives," rights ombudsman Alvarez said of the disco crush. Some three dozen police have been charged over the deaths, along with the club's owner. Mexicans, who tend to be wary of police in general, were also shocked by the way officers mistreated some survivors, both male and female - taking them to detention centers where they were stripped naked and marked with numbers."

"On June 20, police officers surrounded the News Divine nightclub in a densely populated area of the capital, where some 500 young people - most of them teenagers - were enjoying themselves and drinking beer. The police blocked the exit in order to search those present, which provoked a surge of panic and a crush in which 12 people, three of them under 18, were suffocated to death. The police arrested several young people, all of whom were under-age, without warrants. They were beaten, made to strip and photographed as if for a criminal file. The police then covered up evidence of their actions.

... a report by the Mexico City Human Rights Commission accused the police and prosecution services... of being responsible for the News Divine tragedy, because the operation was badly planned, even more badly executed, and marred by abuse of authority. The Commission’s investigation found that the police were carrying out a crackdown on beer-drinking youngsters. It is illegal too sell alcohol to persons under 18 in Mexico, but many bar and nightclub owners ignore the law. On the afternoon in question, high school students were celebrating the end of the school year. The report said that the investigations into the matter were biased with intent to blame the owners of the disco for the tragedy. "

Sources: Reuters; Police in the Dock Over Disco Deaths (11 July 2008)

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