4 local police officers in eastern Mexico are under investigation after man is shot to death

LERDO DE TEJADA, Mexico (AP) — Four local police officers in Mexico were placed under investigation in connection with the shooting death of a man in the Gulf of Mexico state of Veracruz, after neighbors in the town surrounded the officers and attacked them.

The Veracruz Public Security Department said in a statement the officers from Lerdo de Tejada, a coastal town in the south of the state, were detained late Friday. They were handed over to the prosecutor’s office to investigate the death of 27-year-old Brando de Jesús Arellano Cruz, it said.

The identities of the officers were not released.

Arellano Cruz was shot Friday night while in his vehicle. His family speculated the police may have flagged Arellano Cruz down and he didn't stop out of fear of the local security forces, who are highly mistrusted by local residents.

The victim phoned his father, Delfino Arellano Ramírez, and told him that the officers were following him and that he was on his way to his grandmother’s house.

Arellano Ramírez said that just after the call he went to the grandmother's house and that when he arrived, his son’s vehicle was stopped and he heard two gunshots. “He stopped the car because he arrived at his grandmother’s house ... and once the car was stopped there, they shot him with impunity,” he said.

When Arellano Ramirez approached the car, he saw the impact of the bullet in the glass and he looked through the window. “I saw that my son was on his face and was already dripping blood,” he said. Arellano Cruz had been shot in the head.

Arellano Cruz's father and mother — who arrived at the scene shortly afterwards — said they rebuked the officers, asking for explanations but the officers intimidated them and told them that they had nothing to do with what happened.

Soon, dozens of neighbors surrounded the local police officers and began to beat them angrily. One policeman fled, the family said. The other four were rescued by state police and the National Guard and taken to a hospital. Apparently, those are the four officers who are under investigation.

Residents said the crowd was furious and went on to set fire to the town hall. When Associated Press journalist arrived, two patrol cars, a van and part of the town hall building had been burned and dozens of angry people were still there.

Mayor María Esther Arroniz said on social media that she lamented Arellano Cruz's death but condemned people who used the event “to feed hatred, vandalism and social instability.”

Residents have repeatedly denounced abuses by security forces.

Shopkeeper Julio Cesar Ramirez recounted Friday night how he was detained twice and falsely accused of carrying illegal substances. “Perhaps this is not the correct way the people should have acted, but we must also understand that the people are tired of abuses, tired of arbitrariness,” he said.

Impunity runs rampant in Mexico. Only 1% of all crimes committed were reported, investigated and resolved in 2022, according to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

Veracruz has for years had high levels of violence linked to organized crime as it is located on the fastest highway route from Central America to the United States. Security forces from different agencies have been linked several times to cases of corruption and human rights abuses.