Michoacan: four dead in prison hostage crisis

From El Universal, Nov. 19:

At least three of 10 lawyers being held hostage by inmates were killed Saturday after police raided the prison in the state of Michoacán to rescue them, media reported.

It was not immediately clear whether the lawyers were killed by inmates or police during the raid which ended in a shoot-out.

El Universal and the government news agency Notimex reported that a prisoner was killed in addition to the three lawyers.

It was not immediately known if Mexican police had regained full control of the Mil Cumbres prison near the Michoacán state capital of Morelia, where the four inmates rebelled and took the group of lawyers hostage Friday night.

The Michoacán state attorney general´s office could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The convicts, accused of kidnapping and other crimes, rebelled after their attorneys told them they had been sentenced to long prison terms, according to the Public Security Secretariat.

The four prisoners on Saturday demanded money and an armored car to make their escape, prison officials said.

“They are demanding…that they not be followed when they escape,” an official of the Michoacán police, who preferred to remain anonymous, told EFE, before the police raid.

Officials of the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) said Saturday that negotiators sent from Mexico City tried to convince the rebellious inmates to abandon their plan and free the hostages.

“The negotiations are ongoing and we hope to conclude them successfully,” said a PFP official by telephone from Morelia, early Saturday afternoon.

Nonetheless, radio stations in Michoacán and Mexico City said the inmates warned that if their demands were not met, “they won´t free anyone.”

The prison was surrounded by some 500 PFP agents, the Army and the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), an arm of the federal Attorney General´s Office.

The Mil Cumbres prison holds 2,000 prisoners, 60 who are considered highly dangerous, Notimex reported.

See our last posts on Mexico’s human rights crisis and Michoacan.

  1. More details
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 19:

    On the afternoon of Nov. 18 federal and state police stormed the David Franco Rodriguez Social Readaptation Center (CERESO), a prison in Morelia in the west-central Mexican state of Michoacan. The siege came after federal negotiators failed to convince four armed prisoners to release eight attorneys they were holding hostage. Attorneys Alfredo Fabian Sandoval, Jose Antonio Fernandez Galvan and Edgar Galindo Hernandez were killed during the police operation, along with the prisoner Arnaldo Villanueva Herrera; another attorney, Ulises Montanez Arias, died of his injuries on Nov. 19 in a private clinic.

    The four prisoners took 15 people hostage in the prison’s visiting area on Nov. 17 after their lawyers informed them that they had been sentenced to 40 years for the crimes of kidnapping and criminal association. The hostages included 10 lawyers. The prisoners released five hostages that evening and two more in the morning after discussions with negotiators from the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), leaving eight hostages. The talks apparently broke down after 27 hours, at around 2pm on Nov. 18. According to a joint communique from the federal and state governments that evening, the agents moved in after the prisoners shot at the hostages and one hostage called for help. Local human rights activists had warned that tension was rising because of overflights by helicopters carrying police snipers.

    As of early on Nov. 19 there was no official information on who was responsible for the hostages’ deaths. Officials of the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) arrived at the prison on Nov. 19 to begin an investigation. Gov. Lazaro Cardenas Batel, of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), attended the burial of three of the hostages on Nov. 19 and promised their relatives a thorough investigation. (La Jornada, Nov. 19; EFE, Nov. 19; La Cronica, Nov. 19 from Notimex) [Cardenas is already under pressure because of the death of two striking steelworkers in a similar joint federal-state police operation in Lazaro Cardenas last April 20.]