A federal judge ordered the release of a former self-defense leader yesterday just three days after he was arrested due to inconsistencies in the navy report on his capture.
José Farías Álvarez, known as El Abuelo (The Grandfather), was detained Sunday by marines in the municipality of Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, for alleged links to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles praised the capture and said Farías was a priority target in the state government’s security strategy.
According to the Navy Secretariat (Semar) report, Farías had been placed in a navy pickup truck after his arrest when a single Semar helicopter arrived to provide back-up. Armed civilians had begun firing at the navy vehicle in an attempt to free the man many consider to be a community leader rather than a criminal.
The helicopter returned fire to deter the attack, the navy said in its report, which was presented to the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) as evidence.
But witness testimonies and video evidence presented during a hearing indicated that two helicopters — rather than one — participated in the capture operation and that they fired directly at the pick-up in which Farías had been traveling.
Following his detention, navy personnel set the vehicle alight.
Based on the evidence presented, the judge determined that Farías’ arrest did not occur in the manner the navy said it did and denied an application from the PGR for the case to proceed to trial.
El Abuelo returned to Tepalcatepec just before midday yesterday to a boisterous reception from local residents who days earlier had pressed for his release by erecting roadblocks.
In a later television interview with Imagen Noticias, Farías charged that there were further inaccuracies in the Semar report including the stated time at which he was arrested and an accusation that he had weapons and drugs in his possession.
He also claimed that he had been tortured by marines but said he would not take legal action against the navy.
While he was being tortured inside the navy vehicle, Farías said, personnel attempted to extract a confession from him about the whereabouts of Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, Mexico’s most wanted drug lord and the boss of the cartel El Abuelo allegedly has links to.
Farías said he replied that he knew nothing about the capo because he hasn’t lived in Michoacán for several years.
The founder of the Tepalcatepec self-defense group also confirmed that two Semar helicopters had fired at the pickup truck he was traveling in with family members including his grandson, adding that the impact of the bullets caused his vehicle to break down.
Farías asserted he is not a criminal and called on the navy to concentrate its efforts on apprehending real criminals and not innocent people like him.
The navy has also come under suspicion in Tamaulipas, where relatives of at least 40 missing persons claim the navy was involved in their disappearance. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has echoed that suspicion.