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Latin America

Mexico demands US federal inquiry into police shootings of migrants

Local officers in three states are accused of using excessive force in separate incidents

Antonio Zambrano's mother (left) at his funeral.
Antonio Zambrano's mother (left) at his funeral. AP

Mexico asked Washington on Monday for full investigations into the recent shooting deaths of three Mexican migrants at the hands of local police officers across the United States.

In a statement, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs told the US Justice Department that exhaustive inquiries were needed “to ensure that civil and criminal responsibilities are established.”

The separate incidents occurred in the states of Texas, California and Washington last month and involve local police officers whom, the victims’ families say, used excessive force on their loved ones. One of the Mexican citizens was shot in the back, according to an autopsy report.

Results of an autopsy ordered by a family lawyer showed that the victim was shot seven times

The three victims were identified as Ernesto Javier Canepa Díaz, Antonio Zambrano Montes and Rubén Villalpando.

Mexico’s consuls in the three states where the shootings took place have raised their concerns with local authorities. But it was the letter from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs that has prompted federal authorities in the United States to get involved.

“Because these incidents cannot be seen as isolated cases, the government of Mexico has called on the Justice Department of the United States to follow the investigations of these cases through its Civil Rights Division,” the statement said.

The most recent killing took place on February 27 when Canepa Díaz, age 27, was shot by Santa Ana police officers in California.

On February 16, Villalpando, a 31-year-old from Mexico’s Durango state, was gunned down by local authorities in Grapevine, Texas, outside Dallas.

In its letter of protest to the Texas Attorney General's Office, the Mexican consulate said that it learned about the incident four days after it occurred when the victim’s widow complained to diplomats. Mexican Consul José Octavio Tripp Villanueva has demanded a full investigation.

Details of these two shootings are sketchy, but the February 10 incident involving Zambrano Montes, a 35-year-old unemployed apple picker from Mexico’s Michoacán state, was captured on a cellphone by a witness.

The video images show Zambrano Montes running across a street chased by three police officers in Pasco, Washington. As he stopped on a sidewalk, he raised his hands in front of the officers, who then shot him.

Cellphone footage of the police shooting in Pasco.

According to the police, Zambrano Montes, who lived in Pasco for more than a decade, threw rocks at the officers and injured two of them.

Results of an autopsy ordered by a family lawyer showed that the victim was shot seven times, including receiving two bullet wounds in his back.

Many civil rights groups, which defend the interests of the estimated 40 million Latin American migrants who live in the United States, have also protested the shootings.

“In these three unfortunate cases, the Mexican government will use all available resources to ensure the protection of the victims’ families so that they have complete access to justice in accordance with the applicable laws,” the foreign relations secretary said.

Debate in the United States over whether police officers use excessive force reached new heights last year following the death of an unarmed African American, Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, there have been various high-profile shootings by officers of suspects in New York, Ohio and California.

On Sunday, a homeless man was shot by Los Angeles police in the city’s downtown Skid Row neighborhood in another case that has angered the African-American community.

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