Friday, June 14, 2024

Four soldiers charged in Nuevo Laredo civilian shooting case

Federal prosecutors have formally accused four soldiers in the killings of five men in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, in late February. 

During a court hearing on Monday, the Federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) presented homicide and attempted homicide charges against the soldiers, who opened fire on a pickup truck in the early hours of Feb. 26. 

Mexican army soldier at the Independence Day Parade, September 16, 2013 in León, Guanajuato, Mexico.
The four soldiers charged on Monday, not pictured here, have been detained at a Mexico City military base since early March. (© Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Five young men, including a United States citizen, were killed, and a sixth man was wounded. A seventh man in the pickup was unharmed but is reportedly suffering psychological distress. 

Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas said last month that the victims were unarmed and not involved in a confrontation with the army. They were reportedly returning home from a night on the town when they came under attack.

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission report determined that the four soldiers charged had acted against protocol and described the shooting as unjustified.

 

A federal judge in Reynosa ruled on Monday that the four soldiers must remain in preventive detention in a prison at a Mexico City military base. The troops, who appeared at Monday’s hearing via video link, have been held there since their arrest in early March.  

Protesters called for their release at demonstrations in numerous cities on March 12. 

Another hearing at which a judge is expected to order the soldiers to stand trial will be held Wednesday. The accused face prison sentences of up to 60 years for each homicide.  

Lawyers for the victims’ families intend to ask prosecutors to bring charges against 17 other soldiers, including a captain, who were part of the same company as the accused troops and on the ground in Nuevo Laredo when the alleged homicides occurred. They say these 17 other members were negligent and should have prevented the shootings.  

“Only four [soldiers] activated their firearms, according to ballistic reports, but the others committed willful misconduct to a greater or lesser degree against the young men who lost their lives and those who survived,” lawyer Edgar Netro Acuña told the El Universal newspaper.  

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) last month described the shooting as unjustified. In a March 21 report directed to Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval, the CNDH stated that the four soldiers fired a total of 117 shots at the pickup in which the young men were traveling. 

Alejandro Encinas, Mexico's Deputy Interior Minister
Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas acknowledged that the civilians were unarmed and did not pose a threat to the troops that confronted them. (Andrea Murcia Monsivais/Cuartoscuro)

According to the report, soldiers in four vehicles followed the pickup based on “suspicion” of criminal activity. The army didn’t follow correct procedure in engaging the vehicle, the CNDH alleged. 

“Without giving verbal orders [to pull over], one soldier opened fire into the back of the private vehicle, and three other soldiers did the same to support the first one,” the report said. 

In a statement issued on Feb. 28, the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) said that soldiers heard gunshots before they saw a pickup without license plates and with its lights off, traveling at high speed. 

“Upon seeing the presence of the troops, they accelerated in a brusque and evasive way,” Sedena said, adding that the pickup came to a halt when it crashed into a parked vehicle. 

“Upon hearing a bang, the military personnel activated their firearms,” the statement said.

Crime scene reports didn’t mention any weapons found in the pickup, and the CNDH said there was no evidence of shots fired at soldiers or their vehicles. 

Located opposite the Texan city of Laredo, Nuevo Laredo is a stronghold of the Northeast Cartel, an offshoot of the Zetas crime organization. Clashes between the military and cartel henchmen occur frequently in the border city. 

The military has been accused of committing other human rights violations in Nuevo Laredo, including enforced disappearances. Thirty marines were arrested in 2021 in connection with the disappearance of an unspecified number of people in the city in 2014. 

Dozens of other people went missing in Nuevo Laredo in the first half of 2018 during military operations against cartels.     

With reports from El Universal, Reforma, El Financiero and AP

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