Crime and Violence · Transparency & accountability

12 Police Officers Arrested for Alleged Role in Migrant Massacre

03/02/21 (written by scortez) – In the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, 12 police officers were arrested on murder charges for the killing and burning of nearly 20 people. On January 22, the bodies of 19 people were found inside two cars in the municipality of Camargo. The events occurred on the side of a road that is commonly used by migrants attempting to reach the United States. At least 14 of those found in the vehicle were Guatemalan migrants, as well as two Mexican citizens—speculated to be the ‘coyotes’. Three victims remain unidentified because of the severity of their burns. According to the Washington Post, the truck was a part of a large convoy of vehicles transporting migrants from Central America across the U.S-Mexico border. The attorney general of Tamaulipas, Irving Barrios Mojica, charged 12 police officers of the Grúpo de Operaciones Especiales (Special Operations Group),commonly known as GOPES for their involvement in the massacre. The newly-formed GOPES is an elite police unit established to act as a fast-responding armed force to address the rising rates of organized crime and kidnappings in the state. In 2020, the group had been trained by US authorities to be able to deliver an immediate response. 

According to Animal Político, investigators had initially presumed that the events occurred at a different location because of the lack of shell casings at the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, the vehicles holding the bodies were riddled with over 100 bullet impacts, creating suspicion that the casings were removed and that perhaps the police officers tending to the scene were involved. In addition to a tampered crime scene, investigators received statements from police officers that contradicted original police reports. Investigators began to believe that the officers that provided varying reports could have been involved in the massacre and removed the shell casings to avoid being implicated. According to a report in Milenio, officials also examined-with the authorization of a judge-call logs, geolocations, and video surveillance to determine their alleged involvement. The speedy investigation led to the attorney general announcing just a few weeks after the bodies were discovered that GOPES police officers were indeed involved. The 12 officers have been arrested on charges of homicide, falsification of reports, and abuse of power.

Before arresting the officers, authorities had also discovered that the charred truck in which the bodies were found was previously seized by immigration officials for attempting to traffic 66 migrants in the neighboring state of Nuevo León, according to reports by Reuters. The vehicle was released to one of the identified victims that was found in the massacre. According to the Associated Press, the National Immigration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) announced that eight immigration agents had been terminated for allowing the vehicle to be released. Olga Sánchez Cordero, the Secretary of the Interior of Mexico, confirmed that the agents had been fired, but did not elaborate on the details of their involvement.

GOPES’s History of Violence

GOPES has been previously accused of committing violent crimes in Tamaulipas. The Associated Press reported that prosecutors in 2019 accused the same state police unit, formerly known as the Tamaulipas Center for Analysis, Information and Studies (Centro de Análisis, Información y Estudios de Tamaulipas, CAIET), for allegedly dragging eight people from their home in Nuevo Laredo, forcing them to put on garments to appear as criminals, and executing them. In the same article, Raymundo Ramos, a human rights activist, criticized the handling of previous investigations into this group in which 40 officers were implicated  and only two were charged for their involvement. The group faced no real consequence for their large-scale involvement in the 2019 massacre; rather, they received a name change. Ramos stated that the latest massacre fits into the style of tactics that the group employs—concealing their presence and leaving no witnesses behind. 

The Associated Press article further speculates that the migrant group may have been caught in between a territory dispute between the Northeast cartel, a remnant faction of the Los Zetas, and the Gulf Cartel. GOPES was working for the Northeast cartel when they encountered the small caravan of migrants. In the same article, Oscar Hernández, an anthropologist at Colegio de la Frontera Norte, commented, “It’s not news that some police units get involved in this kind of thing, not justice violence, which is the most visible, but other things like aiding and abetting, and corruption.” A federal legislator went as far as issuing a non-binding resolution in Mexico’s Congress in January to protest the violence and atrocities that the group has been suspected of committing. Nevertheless, the police unit was left intact to patrol the streets of Tamaulipas even after well-documented allegations leveled against them.  

As such, the arrest of the 12 police officers signals a delayed response to injustices that the group has had a history of committing. It took a change of the group’s name and another massacre for the state of Tamaulipas to begin holding the police unit accountable. The 19-person massacre also illuminates the peril that migrants endure in attempting to reach the United States. Without the pursuit of justice, migrants will continue to experience the corrosive impact of corruption that  endangers their safety and security.

A charred vehicle found by the Army with a burned body inside. The truck was discovered on the side of the road commonly used by migrants and traffickers near the U.S.-Mexico border. Source: Archyde.


Hernández, Antonio. “EU entrenó a nuevo equipo policial de operaciones especiales de Tamaulipas.” Milenio. August 8, 2020. 

“Tamaulipas:Hallan calcinados los cuerpos de 19 personas asesinados en el noreste de México” BBC Mundo. January 24, 2021. 

Reuters Staff. “Mexico investigates possible involvement of officials in killings of suspected migrants.” Reuters. February 1, 2021.

“Fiscalía de Tamaulipas reconoce participación de policías estatales en masacre de Camargo: hay 12 detenidos.”Animal Político. February 2, 2021.

Peña, Alfredo. “Dozen state police charged in the massacre of 19 in Mexico.” Associated Press. February 3, 2021.

Sieff, Kevin. “Mexican police charged in massacre of Guatemalan migrants near U.S. border.” Washington Post. February 3, 2021.

López, María. “ Abren proceso a 12 policías de Tamaulipas por asesinato de 19 personas en Camargo.” Milenio. February 8, 2021.

Pena, Alfredo and Mark Stevenson. “History of abuse for Mexican abuse unit in Migrant Massacre.” Associated Press. February 10, 2021.

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