MEXICO CITY (AP) — The number of Mexico City officers arrested in connection with a mass kidnap and killing of 12 young bar-goers in May climbed to four on Tuesday, the city police chief said.
Security Chief Jesus Rodriguez Almeida said all four have been turned over to the prosecutor's office and that he has no evidence to conclude they were involved.
"We're not prejudging whether they're guilty or not," Almeida told The Associated Press. He did not give the officer's name.
The case of the after-hours bar known as Heaven, where the 12 were abducted last May in broad daylight, shook the city's image as one of the safer areas of Mexico, relatively free of brutal, drug-related crime. The bodies of the young victims were found in late August in a mass grave outside the city in a rural part of Mexico state.
Authorities say the mass killing was part of a dispute between gangs that control drug sales on street corners and in Mexico City's bars. Prosecutors have said they believe one gang was exacting revenge for the slaying of a drug dealer in a bar in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.
The Mexico City prosecutor announced Monday that two police had been arrested in the case, putting the total at three. Rodriguez on Tuesday confirmed the arrest of the fourth officer. The total number of suspects in custody is now 18.
Ricardo Martinez, attorney for the victims' families, said he is not surprised that police are being implicated. "There are both criminals and public servants involved," he said.
Almeida admitted that the arrests affect the reputation of the police force, which was also considered one of the better in a country infamous for corrupt law enforcement. Police are often arrested in high-profile crimes in Mexico, especially along the border and in areas where drug cartels are fighting for territory. Mexico City authorities continue to insist that organized crime does not operate in the city.
Almeida said all four officers who were arrested had been through the department's vetting process, but he could not say for confidentiality reasons whether they had passed their background checks. He said each of the four had between four and 11 years of service on the force.
"Among police worldwide, there are officers who follow the law ... and those who turn away from the law, and have to face the legal consequences of their actions," Almeida said, noting that the mega-city's police force has 87,000 officers.
"It's a myth that police are involved in all criminal activity," he added, noting that his department maintains a constant fight against corruption.
Prosecutors have said the first police officer, who was detained last week, worked in the Zona Rosa, a touristy area of bars and restaurants just a block from the U.S. Embassy where the 12 disappeared on May 26.
Two more officers, whose detainment was announced Monday, are being held under house arrest while authorities investigate their alleged involvement.
Thirteen bodies in all were unearthed from the mass grave. A federal prosecutor who was not authorized to speak to the media said the 13th victim may have been someone who aided the kidnappers.
Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report.