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Tijuana's Police Corruption Investigation Being Questioned

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Video Transcript:

13 TIJUANA POLICE OFFICERS WHO WERE JAILED FOR A YEAR AND A HALF FOR ALLEGEDLY WORKING FOR DRUG CARTELS HAVE BEEN FREED. THEY WERE RELEASED BECAUSE THERE WASN'T ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO PROSECUTE THEM. THE CASE HAS CALLED INTO QUESTION WHAT HAS BEEN SEEN AS AN UNPRECEDENTED CRUSADE IN TIJUANA TO FIGHT CORRUPTION. AMY ISAACSON BRINGS US THIS STORY. Reporter: WHEN MIGUEL MESSINA AND 24 OTHER TIJUANA POLICE OFFICERS WERE ARRESTED A YEAR AND A HALF AGO IT WAS BIG NEWS. AT THE TIME, TIJUANA'S POLICE CHIEF WAS RUNNING DOZENS OF POLICE CHIEF ON HIS FORCE WHO HE SUSPECTED MOONLIGHTED FOR THE DRUG CARTEL. THE MISTREATMENT OF PRISONERS AT GUANTANAMO. WE SUFFERED PRACTICALLY THE SAME. Reporter: MESSINA HAD BEEN HOME FROM JAIL FOR LESS THAN 24 HOURS WHEN HE AGREED TO TELL US ABOUT HIS ARREST BACK IN MARCH 2009. HE SAYS HE AND THE OTHER OFFICERS WERE AT THE USUAL MORNING BRIEFING. THE CHIEF HAULED THEM OFF, TURNED THEM OVER TO THE MEXICAN ARMY IN TIJUANA. MESSINA SAYS THE SOLDIERS TAPED THEIR EYES SHUT AND TORTURED THEM FOR DAYS. Reporter: IN HUNDREDS OF PAGES OF DEPOSITIONS, OFFICER AFTER OFFICER, SOLDIERS WITH PLASTIC BAGS OVER THEIR HEAD TO SUFFOCATE THEM AND APPLIED ELECTRIC SHOCKS TO THEIR GENITALS. HUMILIATION, BEATINGS. THEY PUT A GUN TO MY CHEST AND SAID, WE'RE DONE. WE'RE GONNA KILL YOU AND DUMP YOUR BODY IN THE STREET TO MAKE IT SEEM LIKE A DRUG CARTEL HIT. ALL I COULD DO WAS THINK OF MY FAMILY. >> MA SEAN THAT HAD BEEN A DISTRICT COP FOR THREE DECADES. THIS PHOTO SHOWS TIJUANA'S MAYOR BRACING MESSINA JUST TWO MONTHS BEFORE HE WAS ARRESTED. IN THIS PHOTO, MESSINA STANDS WITH THE CHIEF, A MAN HE THOUGHT WOULD SAVE POLICING IN TIJUANA. I ADMIRED HIM LIKE YOU CAN'T IMAGINE. HE WASN'T INTIMIDATED BY ANYTHING. HE WAS LOOK A SUPERHERO, ALMOST LIKE SUPERMAN FOR ME. BUT THAT ALL CHANGED WHEN HE WAS PROMOTED. HE WAS TAPPED TO BE TIJUANA'S TOP COP IN 2008. THAT'S WHEN HIS ANTICORRUPTION CRUSADE KICKED IN. MESSINA SAID ONE OF HIS COLLEAGUES WAS SWEPT UP AND WRONGLY ACCUSED. MESSINA COMPLAINED THREE DAYS LATER HE HIMSELF WAS ARRESTED IN WHAT HE THINKS WAS RETRIBUTION. HE SAYS HIS FORMER SUPERHERO STOOD BY AS HE AND THE OTHER OFFICERS WERE TORTURED. THE SOLDIER SAID, AH, YOU WANT TO BE A TOUGH GUY? WELL, GO FOR IT, AND THEY SUFFOCATED ME. AFTER A COUPLE OF ROUNDS, THEY SAW IT WASN'T GOING TO GET ME TO TALK, SO THEY TRAYED TO GET ME TO SIGN A CONFESSION THEY'D WRITTEN. I SAID NO. THEY BEAT ME MORE. I FELT A SHARP PAIN IN MY CHEST. MY VISION GOT CLOUDY, AND I PASSED OUT. MESSINA THOUGHT HE HAD A HEART ATTACK. EVENTUALLY HE AND THE OTHER TWO DOZEN OFFICERS WERE FLOWN TO A PRISON IN SOUTHERN MEXICO WHERE THEY WERE INCARCERATED FOR A YEAR AND A HALF. Reporter: ONE OF THE FIST THINGS MANY OF THE POLICE DID WHEN THEY GOT BACK TO TIJUANA WAS COME HERE TO CITY HALL. THEY WANT THEIR JOBS BACK. THE MAYOR SAYS NO. MUNICIPAL POLICE SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY FREE OF ANY SUSPICION. Reporter: TIJUANA MAYOR RAMOS HAS HELPED KICK 450 OFFICERS OFF THE FORCE FOR AALLEGED TIES TO ORGANIZED CRIME. HE COUNTS THAT AS ONE OF HIS MAJOR SUCCESSES. MESSINA AND THE OTHER DOZEN OFFICERS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES THAT SAY THAT THE MILITARY TORTURED THEM. THERE'S COMPLAINTS FROM OTHER POLICE OFFICERS AND CIVILIANS. Reporter: THE MILITARY, AS MEXICAN PRESIDENT CALDERON'S TEETH IN THE DRUGS. HUMAN RIGHTS COMPLAINTS LIKE THESE ARE ONE OF THE CHIEF ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE USE OF THE ARMY. CALDERON SAYS THERE IS NO PROOF THE SOLDIERS COMMITTED ABUSES. RAMOS STUDIES PUBLIC SAFETY IN A THINK TANK IN TIJUANA. HE SAYS THERE'S LITTLE PUBLIC OUTCRY. PEOPLE ARE SO DESPERATE BECAUSE OF ALL OF THE KIDNAPPINGS AND MUTILATION, THEY JUSTIFY THOSE KINDS OF PRACTICES. BUT DAVID SAYS THAT ATTITUDE IS RISKY. IF THE GOVERNMENT SORT OF STOOPS TO THE LEVEL OF TORTURE AND INTIMIDATION, THE SAME LEVEL THAT ORGANIZED CRIME GROUPS USE, THE GOVERNMENT IS NO BETTER. HE SAYS THIS CASE EXPOSES THE WEAKNESS OF THE MEXICAN GOVERNMENT'S STRATEGY IN THE DRUG WAR. BRINGING IN A STRONG MAN TO SORT OF TAKE THE LEAD AND PLAY BATMAN IS NOT NECESSARILY THE BEST WAY TO ACCOMPLISH COUNTERCORRUPTION ON A POLICE FORCE. YOU NEED TO HAVE EFFECTIVE INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS. YOU NEED TO HAVE THE ABILITY FOR WITNESSES AND EVIDENCE TO BE PUT FORWARD IN A SYSTEMATIC WAY THAT PROTECTS THOSE WHO ARE MAKING ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CORRUPT OFFICIALS AND THOSE MECHANISMS, FRANKLY, DO NOT EXIST OR ARE NOT AS WELL DEVELOPED IN MEXICO AS THEY SHOULD BE. HE WORRIES THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ISN'T PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION, EITHER. MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN U.S. FEDERAL AID TO MEXICO ARE CONTINGENT ON MEXICAN LIBERTIES. HE SAYS CONGRESS HASN'T WITHHELD ANY FUNDING AND IS MORE CONVENIENT FOR THEM TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY BECAUSE MEXICO'S DRUG WAR IS SHOWING SOME RESULTS. THE HIGHEST HUMAN RIGHTS COURT IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE, THE INTERAMERICAN COMMISSION, IS INVESTIGATING THE 25 OFFICERS TORTURE CLAIMS. ONE PERSISTENT ADVOCATE FOR THESE OFFICERS IS MIGUEL MESSINA'S DAUGHTER, BLANCA, WHOSE STORY WE BROUGHT YOU LAST YEAR. SHE'S SINCE GONE INTO HIDING BECAUSE HER LIFE WAS THREATENED. SHE SPOKE WITH US BY PHONE FROM HER HIDING SPOT. A MAN PUT A GUN TO MY HEAD. HE EVEN CALLED ME BY NAME. WHAT HAPPENED, BLANKITA? WE AGREED YOU'D STOP COMPLAINING. Reporter: SHE IS ECSTATIC THAT HER FATHER BE RELEASED BUT CONTINUES TO FIGHT FOR HIS GOOD NAME AND THE OTHERS WHO ARE STALE JAILED. AMY ISAACSON, KPBS NEWS.

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