Pubdate: Sun, 11 Dec 2011
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2011 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.
Author: Alfredo Corchado, Mexico Bureau and Angela Kocherga, Belo Television


Ex-Inmate Describes Seeing Corruption, Killing, Beatings

A U.S. citizen from the El Paso area, recently freed from a Mexican 
prison in Ciudad Juarez, said he witnessed government corruption, 
heard the killing of a gang leader by federal police, and personally 
watched a controversial police chief beat inmates with a two-by-four.

The firsthand account by Shohn Huckabee, 24, provides a rare view 
into life behind bars and reaffirms allegations made by thousands of 
Mexican prisoners, whose complaints often go nowhere. The allegations 
also raise questions about how much Mexico has done to improve its 
weak judicial system, one of the goals of U.S. aid under the Merida 

A spokesman for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said Thursday 
that the State Department should carefully vet "Merida funding in 
order to ensure that it is being used for its intended purposes and 
effectively," and "should investigate the reported torture of Shohn 
Huckabee, and we look forward to receiving those findings."

Huckabee spent nearly two years at the municipal prison known as 
Cereso after he and a friend, Carlos Quijas, also a U.S. citizen, 
were arrested while returning home from Juarez. Both were convicted 
of drug trafficking after Mexican soldiers said they discovered 
marijuana in their car, a charge both men denied.

Last September, Huckabee was transferred to the United States under a 
U.S.-Mexico treaty. He was released last week after the U.S. Justice 
Department parole board determined that he had been tortured by 
Mexican authorities while in custody. On Thursday, Quijas was 
transferred to a U.S. prison.

Huckabee signed deportation papers stipulating that he must stay out 
of Mexico for 10 years, but he vowed: "I won't ever return to Mexico. 
I don't plan to visit there ever again because this could happen to anyone."

His parents support the decision to share his story. "It's a tragedy 
for an entire nation that needs to be told to the rest of the world," 
said his father, Kevin Huckabee.

In an interview at his home in the El Paso area, Huckabee described a 
series of violations at the prison. He said he lived through a deadly 
riot in prison in July and the brutal crackdown by authorities that 
followed. He said he witnessed municipal police officers and Police 
Chief Julian Leyzaola beat inmates with two-by-four pieces of wood.

"He was hitting them personally," Huckabee said of Leyzaola. "I saw him."

Huckabee said he saw inmates "blue and black and bruised up."

Allegations of torture

Leyzaola, a retired army lieutenant colonel, has been credited with 
cleaning up the border city of Tijuana and more recently with 
reducing crime in Ciudad Juarez. But allegations of torture and 
corruption have followed him.

According to a July 14, 2009, diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, 
U.S. diplomats raised suspicions that a drop in violence in the city 
of Tijuana had more to do with Leyzaola cutting a "look-the-other-way 
agreement" with the Arellano Felix drug cartel than with the overall 
government strategy.

Leyzaola has denied the allegations and has described himself as 
nothing more than a patriot trying to rid Mexico of criminals. After 
Leyzaola's success in Tijuana, the Juarez mayor, state governor and 
top business leaders personally recruited him to take the Juarez job. 
Calls and emails to his spokesman in Ciudad Juarez were unanswered.

Huckabee said federal police were the first to enter the prison after 
the riot in July and used deadly force even after prisoners were 
disarmed and stripped. Among the 17 people killed in the riot and 
crackdown was a man identified as Nicolas Frias Salas, known as El 
Nico and leader of the Double A gang, a group associated with the 
Sinaloa cartel.

"They had just taken all our clothes off and laid us all on the 
ground close together," Huckabee said. "And all we hear is a rafaga 
[burst of fire] of the rifles."

"We're like, what's going on, what's going on? Well they had shot 
him. And all the guys, the feds, started cocking their rifles, and 
we're like, 'Great. This is what they're doing.' We're all laid here 
on the ground, and they're going to start opening fire.

"Then it came over the radio, 'It's OK, we just shot another pig. It 
was one of our guys that shot one of theirs. Don't worry.' The next 
day we found it was a leader and who it was and a guy I actually knew."

Emails seeking comment from the federal police and the office of 
President Felipe Calderon also were unanswered.

Human rights report

In November, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch released a 
report that accused the Mexican government of torture, forced 
disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the government's 
five-year war against organized crime. The report detailed violations 
at all levels of authority, from prosecutors who allegedly give 
detainees prewritten confessions for signing to medical examiners who 
classify beatings and electric shock as causing minor injuries.

Huckabee, who said he was beaten with a rifle butt and given electric 
shocks, said he and other inmates tried denouncing the incidents to 
human rights activist Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, but the activist 
was not allowed in the prison. De la Rosa Hickerson confirmed that 
the police chief barred him from entering the prison.

"I don't see any justice," Huckabee said. "I see corruption. I see 
lots of corruption."

The corruption begins with guards who "want their 20-30 pesos for a 
favor here or there" to judges who "ask for a certain amount of money 
and you'll be out. I couldn't pay the amount of money that they 
wanted. It was astronomical," in the tens of thousands of dollars, he 
said. "For a drug dealer, it's a good thing for them; they can pay 
their way out."

Some policy analysts in Washington question whether the incidents 
described by Huckabee will further dampen U.S. support for continued 
aid to help Mexico's fight against drug traffickers, including the 
training of federal police, and to strengthen its judicial system. 
Under terms of the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative aid package, Mexico 
could lose 15 percent of the aid if there is evidence of human rights 
violations. The State Department is required to issue a report in the 
first half of 2012 on whether Mexico is fulfilling its human rights 

"This case raises the profile in Mexico and makes it harder for the 
State Department to argue that enough progress is made," said Maureen 
Meyer, Mexico program director at the Washington Office on Lat-in 
America. "This ups the ante because this involves a U.S. citizen, and 
the Department of Justice determined that he was tortured."

On Thursday, the Mexican federal police received a Black Hawk 
helicopter, the latest installment of U.S. aid.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D