6 local police, including security guard, arrested in northern Mexico mayor’s killing

Friday, August 20, 2010

Police arrested in northern Mexico mayor’s killing

MONTERREY, Mexico — Six city police officers were arrested Friday in the killing of a mayor in northern Mexico, as the country’s escalating drug violence targets more public officials.

The suspects included the officer who guarded the house where Santiago Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos was seized on Sunday. The officer had said he was kidnapped with the mayor and later freed unharmed.

Adrian de la Garza, head of the police investigations agency in Nuevo Leon state, told a news conference that the police officers received 6,000 pesos ($700) per month to cooperate with criminals “in different ways and different affairs,” with some allegedly acting as lookouts.

“They were employees” of a criminal gang, De la Garza said at a news conference where he displayed security-camera footage from Cavazo’s house, showing armed kidnappers arriving at the home on Sunday night in five SUVs.

The grainy video showed the vehicles turn on flashing lights, apparently to simulate police patrol vehicles, as armed men get out without any apparent resistance from the officer guarding the home.

Cavazos is seen being lead out of his home and forced into a vehicle at gunpoint.

The guard is then also seen getting into the front cabin of another SUV, contrary to his earlier statement claiming he had been bundled into the trunk of one of the vehicles and later dumped unharmed by the side of the road.

Nuevo Leon state Attorney General Alejandro Garza y Garza said the officers confessed to being involved in the Cavazos’ killing, though some declared their innocence while being presented to the press.

“We are still looking for others who were involved as well,” Garza y Garza said.

The body of the 38-year-old mayor was found handcuffed and gagged Wednesday outside of his town, a popular weekend getaway for residents of the industrial city of Monterrey.

Cavazos’ death comes amid increasing violence in the northeast of the country attributed to a dispute the Gulf cartel and its former allies, the Zetas. Authorities refused to say which cartel is believed to be responsible for Cavazos’ killing.

Meanwhile, a federal judge presiding over the case of former Cancun mayor facing drug-related charges survived an attack Thursday in the west coast state of Nayarit, according to a federal police report. The assault killed one of two bodyguards for Judge Carlos Alberto Elorza.

President Felipe Calderon is proposing that Mexico consider appointing anonymous judges for drug-trafficking trials, a change that would contradict the effort he promoted to build a more open judicial system.

Elorza is the judge in the case of Gregorio Sanchez, a former Cancun mayor who was forced out of the Quintana Roo gubernatorial campaign when he was charged with drug trafficking and money laundering. Federal police minister Wilfrido Robledo told reporters that Elorza had received threats, so his security detail was increased. He rode in an armored SUV when he came under attack.

The federal Judiciary Council, which oversees Mexico’s courts, said in a statement that it “rejects violence that represents an attack on the rule of law and the country’s institution.”

Cavazo’s killing has prompted authorities to call for more patrols by both the army and federal police in Nuevo Leon, where shootings are commonplace.

On Friday, four alleged cartel gunmen were arrested in Santiago, but De la Garza said they were not linked to the mayor’s killing.

The Army said the four suspects were detained at a ranch where soldiers found 9 assault rifles, 5 grenades and what appeared to be a grenade or rocket launcher.

And in another Monterrey suburb, Santa Catarina, three security guards from the FEMSA bottling company were wounded in a shootout outside a school. FEMSA spokesman Carlos Velazquez said the guards were performing standard patrols in the area when the gunmen opened fire on their vehicles.

“We energetically condemn the atmosphere of danger that prevails in the greater Monterrey area and which puts residents lives at risk,” the company said in a statement.

Mauricio Fernandez, mayor of the San Pedro Garza Garcia, another town on the outskirts of Monterrey, said Cavazos had received death threats from gangs warning him to stay out of their way and had sought advice on how to handle the threats.

Officials at the state attorney general’s office said Cavazos had never informed authorities about any threats. Gen. Guillermo Moreno, who commands troops in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, said the army did not received complains from the mayor or requests for protection.

The leading candidate for governor in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders Nuevo Leon, was shot to death a week before the election. A mayoral candidate in Tamaulipas also was shot in May.

Drug violence has killed more than 28,000 people since December 2006, when Calderon started his crackdown on the cartels.

Associated Press Writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report from Mexico City.

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