Friday, June 14, 2024

Ciudad Juárez prison head focus of probe as authorities search for fugitives

The director of the Cereso No. 3 prison in Ciudad Juárez was fired on Tuesday, following a prison raid that left 19 people dead and allowed at least 27 prisoners to escape.

According to a statement by the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office, former director Alejandro Alvarado Téllez and several other prison staff members are under investigation for the events leading up to the jailbreak.

Authorities are investigating whether they failed in their duties to maintain security or even allowed prohibited objects to enter the prison.

The raid occurred on the morning of Jan. 1 after gunmen attacked the penal institution, seeking to free a leader of the local Mexicles gang, Ernesto Alfredo Pinon de la Cruz, alias “El Neto.” Nineteen people were killed in the gun battle, including 10 guards. At least 27 prisoners escaped, including the gang leader and his lieutenant.

Prisoners being transferred out of Cereso No. 3 in Juarez, Chihuahua
In the aftermath of the raid, hundreds of prisoners are being transferred out of Cereso No. 3 to other prisons around the country. (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

When federal authorities regained control of the prison, they found that El Neto had been staying in a “VIP zone” within the center, with access to drugs and money.

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry (Sedena) announced that it had deployed 200 military personnel to Ciudad Juárez to reinforce security. The additional troops will join the hunt for the fugitive prisoners, alongside over 900 members of the army and National Guard already in the city.

At least five criminals who escaped in the breakout have been captured, along with weapons, drugs and cash. Meanwhile, seven people have died in clashes during the manhunt, including two police officers. Five criminals armed with tactical weaponry were killed in a police chase after firing on search units.

In addition, one fugitive was caught on security cameras attempting to cross the United States border into El Paso, Texas.

Chihuahua Governor Maru Campos listening to updates on authorities' attempts to track down fugitive prisoners after a prison break in Juarez
Chihuahua Governor Maru Campos, center, listening to updates on authorities’ attempts to track down fugitive prisoners. (Photo: Gov. of Chihuahua)

“After the sighting, the authorities of El Paso, Texas, were informed with the relevant information, and immediately a joint search operation was implemented on both sides of the border,” the state government said.

191 prisoners from the Cereso have been transferred to other federal prisons around the country. They had been charged with crimes including murder, kidnapping, rape and organized crime activity.

“This operation concluded safely and successfully; with these movements, the state government was supported in guaranteeing the governability of the center after the events of Jan. 1,” read a statement by the Defense Ministry (Sedena).

According to the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office, the transfer of “El Neto” and 179 other prisoners from the Cereso has been under consideration since a previous escape attempt on Aug. 11. The request was on hold pending an analysis of capacity in other centers.

Ernesto Alfredo Piñon de la Cruz, alias “El Neto"
Ernesto Alfredo Piñon de la Cruz, alias “El Neto” lived like a king in Cereso No. 3, authorities say, with access to drugs and money. He’s been involved in organized crime since starting his own gang while still a teen and becoming a regional leader in the Juárez Cartel at age 18. (Photo: social media)

They added that “El Neto,” who has been jailed since 2009, was initially held in another prison but has fought a long legal battle to be transferred and then kept in the Cereso. From the prison, he allegedly coordinated numerous violent attacks by the Mexicles gang, one of the most powerful criminal cells in Ciudad Juárez.

With reports from Animal Político, Reuters and Excelsior

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