Amid a growing grumble of citizen outrage over recent incidents of police brutality, National Police Chief Aminta Granera is asking Nicaraguans to not judge the entire force by the abuses committed by a few bad cops.
“These are not the values or principles that we teach our police,” Granera told local media today, after two transit officials were put behind bars this morning for shooting a motorcyclist in the back after he failed to pull over for a traffic stop.
Granera said that recent reports of police abuse are “exceptional cases,” and that “generalizing would be totally unfair to the thousands of police officers who every day put their lives on the line to protect the lives and security of Nicaraguans.”
Granera did, however, call the recent murder of the motorcyclist “deeply painful” and “shameful.”
Officers Luis Escobar and Jorge Javier Sánchez are behind bars awaiting trial after gunning down 32-year-old Marcos Antonio Castillo after he failed to pull over, allegedly for not wearing his helmet. But Castillo’s helmet wouldn’t have protected him from a gunshot to the back.
The two transit officers then reportedly threatened witnesses and who ran to Castillo’s aid and tried to put him in a taxi to bring him to the hospital. Castillo bled to death on the street as the cops stood around with their bellies hanging out.
Castillo’s death has caused outrage among friends and family, who are accusing the two cops of murder.
Chief Granera said she is going to visit the family and ask for forgiveness on behalf of the National Police. She said the police will respond with firmness so that such abuse is not repeated.
“This is not the police force we want, and this is not the police force that Nicaragua has,” Granera said.
Rights activist denounces police beat down in Madriz
The López killing is not the only reported case of police brutality this week. In the northern department of Madriz, democracy watchdog “Hagamos Democracia” is denouncing an act of alleged police abuse against civic activist Blinia del Carmen López, who is accusing three officers of forcibly entering her property and beating her early Sunday morning.
López, 23, says she opened the door of her house at 1:30 a.m. to let her in her brother, who she says often spends the evening loitering about on street corners with his friends. López, an outspoken rights activist and opposition party member, says three passing police officers threatened to arrest her brother as he entered the house.
López says she told the officers to leave him alone because he wasn’t doing anything illegal. At that point, she claims, the female officer lunged at her and attacked her in the doorway of her house. She says the female cop hit her several times and threw her on the floor. The other two officers then reportedly entered the courtyard of the house and fired their guns in the air, according to López’s police report, filed the next day.
As the officers left her house, the female cop allegedly threatened López’s life by saying, “Careful you don’t talk to the press about what happened, or your life will be in danger.”
López, however, is talking to everyone who will listen. She has already filed a complaint with the officers’ superior in Totogalpa and sought help from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) and Hagamos Democracia.
“This was political,” López told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview today from Somoto. “The police know who I am and what party I belong to. And here everything is politicized, so the people don’t denounced police abuse because they are afraid.”
López claims police abuse is rampant in Totogalpa, but she says no one complains because they are all afraid of reprisal.
Hagamos Democracia is demanding an investigation.
“Due to the various recent instances where police in various parts of the country have acted openly violent, Hagamos Democracia demands a thorough investigation,” the group said in a statement.
The police have not commented on López’s case.
Despite their recent public relations problems, the National Police still enjoys a high level of approval among the population, mostly those who identify as Sandinistas. According to public opinion poll released earlier this month by M&R Consultants, 73% of the population says they have confidence in the police, while 26% doesn’t.
López is in the 26-percent camp.
“We can’t live in fear of the police,” she says. “Lots of people are afraid to denounce abuse, but I am not afraid to break the silence.”