The small city of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, lived through some tense times Tuesday when a mob of about 300 people threatened to lynch municipal police officers after one of them crashed his patrol truck into a mototaxi, an incident that was later followed by a riot and a gunfight with police.
The accident took place around noon when officer José Alexis Reyes González, 21, was driving his truck at high speed, the siren on, allegedly en route to a call for emergency assistance.
Reyes collided with the mototaxi, severely injuring driver César Aldair López Jiménez, 18, and his passenger. Both were transported by paramedics to the town’s hospital, but the young driver lost his life early Wednesday morning.
Officer Reyes was removed from the scene immediately after, where enraged passersby and witnesses demanded both the officer and justice.
Three police motorcycles and two patrol cars were dispatched to deal with the situation, and they were joined shortly after by 20 more security personnel.
But all were subsequently cornered by the mob and left unable to control the situation or flee the scene. Angry protesters set three patrol cars and one motorcycle on fire.
Soon after, municipal and state authorities arrived to negotiate the release of the detained officers. Some two hours later, a group of 100 state, transit and judicial police in riot gear turned up and succeeded in containing the crowd and rescuing the detained officers.
Six men, identified by the police as those who incited the aggression against the police department, were arrested.
In response, and riled up once again, a new crowd rioted at police headquarters, burning and vandalizing another nine patrol vehicles and engaging in a gunfight with police. No casualties were recorded, but 19 civilians were arrested.
The 25 arrested civilians and officer Reyes, driver of the patrol truck, were turned over to the public prosecutor’s office.
Tehuantepec Mayor Donovan Rito García believes organized crime was behind the violence, its intention to destabilize the town and disable its security forces.
“This is the second time they tried to provoke a lynching; the first time was at the beginning of my administration. They burned [police] headquarters after I removed the chief. Today, their excuse is a traffic accident, and once again, the headquarters were attacked.”
The mayor was adamant that his administration won’t allow the infiltration of criminal elements into Tehuantepec’s security forces “as has happened in other municipalities of the Isthmus region.”
Tuesday’s damages have been estimated at more than 1.4 million pesos (US $85,000).
State and judicial police, in coordination with federal forces, have deployed a special security operation in the municipality to maintain order and public safety.