Posted: 1/3/2003 8:53:44 AM EDT
Police ambushed at scene of disturbance
By Anna Cearley
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
January 3, 2003
TIJUANA – State investigators said yesterday they believe organized crime was behind the slayings of two Tijuana police officers who were ambushed late Wednesday night.
Officers Juan Francisco Basurto Bañaga, 39, and José Hector Alejandro Rivera Rodríguez, 27, were responding to a complaint about a group of people drinking and playing loud music. They were talking with the people, who were in a pickup parked in front of an apartment complex, when a second truck pulled up behind them, police said.
At least two men from both the Ford Lobo trucks fired numerous shots at the officers, hitting them in the head and chest, police said. The officers died at the scene, stripped of their weapons.
Police said late last night that they have not made any arrests.
"We presume that this was organized crime ... due to the type of weapons that they have and for the manner in which they killed our companions in cold blood," said Baja California Attorney General Antonio Martínez Luna.
Martinez said it is unclear what kind of group would commit such a crime, though some are speculating it has the hallmark of drug traffickers.
"Whether they were operating in kidnapping, car robberies or drug trafficking, we can't detail yet where this line of investigation will take us," he said.
Shortly after the ambush, one of the trucks police believe was used in the attack was found parked in front of a house where authorities also found a large cache of weapons: six handguns, four assault rifles and 570 cartridges. They also found two radio transmitters, and a state police credential belonging to an officer who reported it missing last year.
"He has been interviewed, and it's obviously part of the investigation," Martínez said.
State officials have identified Víctor Magno Escobar Luna as the person living in the house, and they suspect he has something to do with the shooters or the attack.
Since January 2002, three other city police officers have died in the line of duty. State and federal police officers, who also work in Tijuana, also have suffered significant losses over the years, but no figures were available yesterday.
In comparison, last year in San Diego, a city roughly the size of Tijuana, no police officers died in the line of duty.
The killings on the first day of 2003 cast a pall over yesterday's annual celebrations in honor of police officers throughout Mexico.
During the "Day of the Police" ceremony in front of City Hall, Martín Domínguez Rocha, Tijuana's secretary of public security, spoke solemnly about the risks police face each day.
"Day after day they are up against criminals in what is one of the most difficult and rigorous jobs that isn't always understood by our society," he said.
Police Officer Abel Alpizar Jiménez, who attended the ceremony, said that although he didn't personally know the two officers, the killings have sent a chill through the force.
"The feeling is that we need to be more attentive and wary when we go out to do a report or routine activity," he said.
In August, a city police officer and a member of the state preventive police – an intelligence-gathering group separate from the state police – were ambushed and killed when they tried to stop a car that was linked to reports of shots having been fired.
The four men arrested for the crime told authorities they were working for the Arellano Félix cartel – the region's most powerful drug trafficking group.
Other officers have died under murkier circumstances. Three state police were abducted in October and two of the officers' bodies were found stuffed in a car trunk with dollar bills scattered over them. The third officer, who was believed to have been wounded, is still missing.
State police officials didn't hold a ceremony for the officers who died in that case, although that's standard procedure in police deaths. According to sources in the Police Department, the officers were trying to collect hush money after stumbling across a house that was outfitted with prison-like cells that may have been used by the Arellano cartel.
Most of the cops in Mexico are as crooked as the criminals and the military.
They are a joke.