Four municipal police officers are in custody and under investigation for murder following the death of a Salvadoran woman who was violently pinned to the ground while she was being arrested in Tulum, Quintana Roo, on Saturday.
Video footage shows a female officer with her knee on the back of a woman who has been identified as 36-year-old migrant Victoria Esperanza Salazar, a mother of two teenage daughters who was living in Tulum on a humanitarian visa.
In the footage, Salazar, who was apparently arrested for disturbing the peace, can be heard moaning in pain and is seen writhing on the road next to a police vehicle as she was held down for more than 20 seconds. Three male police are also present, one of whom appears to help the female offer restrain Salazar.
Video footage also shows officers subsequently picking up the woman’s limp body and placing her in the back of a police truck.
The Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office (FGE) said Salazar appeared to have died during her arrest and that a murder investigation had been opened. It said forensic medial experts identified that two of her upper vertebrae were broken and determined that the injury was the cause of her death.
The spinal injury is compatible with the “submission maneuvers” of the police, the FGE said, adding that the force used by the police was disproportionate, unreasonable and generated a high risk of death.
The police actions violated the national law on the use of force, the Attorney General’s Office said. The four officers were taken into custody on Sunday morning “for their probable participation in acts regarded by the law as femicide” and have been interviewed by investigators, the FGE said.
Salazar’s death, which had striking similarities to the alleged murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May, triggered a torrent of condemnation on social media where the hashtag #JusticiaParaVictoria (Justice for Victoria) went viral. Migrants associations, human rights groups, feminist collectives and politicians denounced the actions by police.
“I join the demand for justice and zero impunity for the murder of Victoria, a woman who lost her life at the hands of municipal police from Tulum, Quintana Roo. I condemn … the excessive use of [police] force. It must be punished,” said Martha Lucía Micher, a Morena party senator and president of the upper house’s gender equality committee.
Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín González condemned the police action and asserted that there will be no impunity. He also said the family of the victim will have the full support of the state government “to safeguard their safety and integrity and guarantee their access to justice.”
Federal Interior Minister Olga Sánchez also decried the police action and demanded those responsible be held to account.
“I condemn and demand justice for these lamentable occurrences in Quintana Roo this weekend. Acts such as these must not go unpunished,” she said.
The government and politicians in Salazar’s native El Salvador, including President Nayib Bukele, also condemned her death and called for justice.
“I’m sure the Mexican government will apply the full weight of the law to those responsible. We are sister nations, there are bad people everywhere, let’s not forget that. My condolences for the family of Victoria, especially her two daughters, to whom we will provide all possible help,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.
“We’ll take care of the upkeep and studies of Victoria’s two daughters and everything they need. [Of Mexico] we only ask for justice, that those who did this feel the full weight of the law. I see thousands of indignant Mexicans, demanding justice for our compatriot. They’re just as angry as we are. Let it not be forgotten that it was not the Mexican people who committed this crime but rather a few criminals in the Tulum police.”
Salazar’s death comes as millions of Mexican women demand that the authorities do more to combat gender violence in Mexico, where an average of 11 women are killed every day. Her alleged murder occurred as Mexican authorities ramp up enforcement against mainly Central American migrants traveling through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.