Eleven former police officers handed 50-year prison sentences

CAMARGO, MEXICO – Eleven former police officers in Mexico have been handed 50-year prison sentences each for their role in the 2021 killings of 17 migrants and two Mexican citizens, according to official reports released on Tuesday.

The officers, previously part of an elite police unit in the northern state of Tamaulipas, bordering Texas, were convicted earlier this year on charges of homicide and authority abuse. An additional officer, convicted solely of authority abuse, received a 19-year sentence, stated Assistant Public Safety Secretary Luis Rodríguez Bucio.

The defendants had initially claimed self-defense, alleging they were responding to gunfire and believed they were pursuing vehicles belonging to a drug cartel known for migrant smuggling. However, their attempt to conceal the crime by burning the victims’ bodies raised suspicions.

The charred remains were discovered in a pickup truck in Camargo, a town located across the Rio Grande from Texas. This region has been marred by violent disputes between rival cartels, the remnants of the Gulf cartel and the old Zetas cartel, for several years.

The majority of the deceased migrants hailed from rural, Indigenous farming communities in Guatemala. Families reported losing contact with 13 of the migrants as they journeyed towards the United States.

Investigators noted the truck containing the bodies bore 113 bullet impacts, but the absence of spent shell casings at the scene puzzled them. It later emerged that the implicated officers had removed the casings, presumably to avoid detection.

The convicted officers were part of the 150-member Special Operations Group, or GOPES in Spanish, an elite state police unit previously implicated in other human rights abuses under a different name. The unit has since been disbanded.