Failed Police Purification

  • Written by  La Gringa

Apparently, the police purification was our big hope in Honduras for a year or so until even the most optimistic had to give up. The police still go on with the pretense but nothing is happening. All the international experts who were assisting, including the US, gave up and left long ago. UNAH Rector Julieta Castellanos reported that 90 percent of the police who failed the confidence tests (drug and lie detector tests and financial audits) are still working for the police department. She commented that there is incoherence and lack of coordination and investigation in the institutions responsible for the process. Castellanos went on to say that the Minister of Security, the authorities of the Ministerio Público (attorney general), and the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (general accounting office) seem to have a resistence to investigate the higher level officers for fear that they will investigate them.

Josué Murillo, coordinator of the Alianza por la Paz y la Justicia (Alliance for Peace and Justice) questioned that instead of firing police who didn't pass the confidence tests as the new law allows, an agreement was reached to allow several high level officials to retire honorably complete with benefits. He lamented that there are still police involved in illicit acts. Carlos Hernández, member of Association for a Just Society (ASJ in Spanish) said that only 29 police officers have been fired and the lack of action results in bad morale for the agents who agree with police purification. (Both of these are great organizations that do an incredible job of exposing corruption and occasionally even getting the government to work with them to make improvements.)


Here we are approximately 2 1/2 years from the time we were told that the police would be "purified" in six months. Press conferences told us over and over again that 100 police were 'suspended' here, 100 there (that magic meaningless word 'suspended'), yet we would later find out that these police had only been transferred to other duties or at best were on paid leave. Even police who had outstanding arrest warrants (including for bank robbery and murder!) or who were tried or awaiting trial for kidnapping, robbery, or extorsion were still on the payroll.


When we talk about corrupt police in Honduras, we aren't talking about minor things like taking a bribe for not issuing a traffic ticket. One of the worst examples is Santos Arnulfo Padilla Rodriguez. In 2010, police agent Santos Padilla was charged with the kidnapping of a North American couple and the theft of their vehicle. He was tried but released because the victims were too afraid to testify in court -- Padilla had threatened their lives. He had also been investigated along with his partner, Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez, for robberies, extortion, and paid assassination. He was known as "Trigger Happy" by other police in his unit for his propensity to shoot out tires of anyone who didn't stop at a road block or to even kill and 'disappear' them. According to another police agent, Padilla would shoot suspects, gang members, or anyone who caught him in a bad mood. Amazingly, none of this affected his job with the police department at all.


He was one of the four police who killed Julieta Castellanos' 22-year-old son and his friend in October 2011. Initially police tried to cover up the evidence but due to public outrage, the four officers were taken into custody. Incredibly, these suspects were given "the weekend off" by their superior and told to report again on Monday. They, of course, disappeared with not much effort on the part of the police to find them. Padilla turned himself in a year later. He and the others were ultimately convicted in December 2013. He was ordered to serve 87 years in prison. Four other police were involved but were never arrested or tried, including a higher level officer who allegedly gave the okay to "get rid of the problem".


In June 2014, Padilla was convicted of killing another four young men in September 2011 and condemned to an additional 66 years in prison. Padilla was a mass murderer on the police payroll, wearing a uniform and carrying a gun and the police knew he was trouble for at least a year before any of these murders occurred. If the police had taken action against him in 2010, six (or more) young men might be alive today. There is really no telling how many crimes he was actually involved in that were not investigated or how many more like him are still on the police force. (7/2/14) (photo courtesy Getty Images)


Note: The author has been blogging from Honduras since 2006, covering a wide variety of topics from cultural differences to corruption to everyday life. A longtime resident of La Ceiba, she has been dubbed "la gringa mas catracha" by some of her Honduran readers. Her sometimes controversial La Gringa's Blogicito is widely read by both expatriates and Hondurans. The above piece was previously published on her blog.

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