04/05/11 – Ciudad Juárez’s top police official, Lt. Col. Julian Leyzaola, is being accused of human rights violations and abuse allegations following the disappearances of four men on March 26. Leyzaola, who became well known for reducing corruption within police forces in Tijuana from 2008-2010, was appointed public security secretary on March 10 by the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Hector Murguia. During his time as public security secretary of Tijuana, Leyzaola also faced abuse allegations by Humans Rights Watch (HRW) and the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), which he dismissed as attempts to “smear” him. Human Rights Watch has demanded that federal authorities investigate the disappearances of these men since “credible accusations of torture” exist. Mayor Murguia has already ordered his staff to investigate the case.
Witnesses told human rights investigators that they saw police round up the four men, which have been identified as Juan Carlos Chavira, 28, Dante Castillo, 25, Raúl Navarro, 29, and Félix Vizcarra, 22, in front of a market. According to Gustavo de la Rosa, veteran activist and member of the state human rights commission, these police officers were seen wearing uniforms that looked similar to the ones that an elite unit that supplies bodyguards for Leyzaola wears. Five different witnesses have stated that they saw police detain the truck which these men drove and later arrest them. On March 27, the victims’ relatives found the abandoned vehicle in a tunnel a few kilometers from where the men had been arrested. Despite finding the truck’s keys on the ground, the family was unable to find the vehicle’s registration card. City police officers continue to deny having the men in custody or being involved in any way. A spokesman for Leyzaola’s department said it would cooperate in any investigation of the disappearances.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, HRW has stated that “past ‘credible’ allegations of torture, arbitrary detention and other abuses made against Leyzaola raise questions about whether he can or will properly investigate the new cases.” According to Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the America’s division of HRW, Leyzoala’s history throws into question the quality of his leadership skills and ability to reform the police force.