Video Recording of Killing Triggers Alarm in Guatemala Over Police Brutality
A video recovered by the Guatemalan Public Ministry shows that the victim had already been apprehended when he was shot in the head. The images contradict the official version of the events: according to two people who have seen the recording, there was no struggle, an attempt to escape or an accidental shooting. Experts describe the event as exceptional yet a possible consequence of the weakening of the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) -- the Guatemalan police -- that occurred during the government of Jimmy Morales.
The Public Ministry (MP) has a video of the moment when a National Civil Police agent shot and killed Edgar René Ic Pérez. The official report assures that the 33-year-old man did not stop at a police checkpoint. Police chased him for two blocks and the shot was when he struggled with an agent. But that’s not what the video shows.
The images correspond to the night of June 17, when the coronavirus curfew was already in force. According to two sources consulted by Plaza Pública, the video shows Edgar Ic when he was driving his vehicle at about 15 kilometers per hour on 15 avenue in Guatemala City’s Zone 6. Police patrol no. 12036 accelerates and intercepts him to prevent his passage.
At that time, agent Werren David López Alvarado gets out of the car with his gun drawn. Edgar Ic begins to back away at about five kilometers per hour, but López Alvarado swoops in and manages to get through the window of Ic's vehicle, perhaps in an attempt to snatch his keys.
Then everything happens very fast, but the images are clear. Agent López Alvarado opens the door, grabs Edgar Ic, throws him towards the floor and shoots him. The victim died instantly from the impact of a bullet to the head. There was no resistance from Ic or any struggle with the PNC agent.
Edgar Ic was returning home after finishing his working day as a delivery man. He had a permit to circulate during the curfew. Now the case of his death is assigned to the MP's Office of Crimes Against Life. Agent López Alvarado is in preventive prison, accused of homicide.
Jorge Chinchilla, spokesman for the PNC, said that the office of the Inspector General will be responsible for clarifying Ic’s death. The requests made by the Office of the Prosecutor for crimes against life will be managed through this office, which is in charge of validating the performance of the institution's agents.
A Weakened Institution
Edgar Ic's family lawyer, Rootman Pérez, assures that there will be plaintiffs in the case. “We discard the possibility that there was a persecution or any type of struggle with the PCN agents. What happened was mismanagement and abuse of power by the police, with evident superiority over the victim,” says Pérez.
Lawmaker Adela Camacho, who was technical coordinator of the Presidential Commission for the Reform of the PNC, considers this case to be exceptional. "It is not the normal behavior of an agent, because they know about the problems that this type of attitude brings," she says. “The police in Guatemala are trained to be very respectful of human rights. The reaction of agent Werren López is striking. I do not defend it, but it is interesting to analyze why this violent reaction occurred,” says Camacho.
Carlos Menocal, who served as Interior Minister, says that, in the case of Ic, there was a bad procedure. “There are action protocols within the security forces for police procedures in different settings. The use of a firearm is not allowed in any of those protocols. The only instance is when an agent's life is in danger and he is being instigated by firearms,” he affirms.
Agents are not unaware of these protocols. In fact, according to Jorge Chinchilla, a PNC spokesperson, these procedures, and the security instructions to prevent the spread of COVID19, are always repeated to officers at the start of their turn. "They emphasize the good treatment of people and the consistency and proportionality of the acts," he said.
In the framework of the provisions established to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Ic’s homicide is the most serious case of the PNC's actions. But it is not the only one. There are other reported incidents that demonstrate arbitrariness on behalf of the agents. One of them was the dissolving of a clandestine party organized on the highway to El Salvador, on June 12.
The celebration, prohibited by presidential provision, also occurred during curfew hours. However, the agents of Police Station 13 did not make any arrests. Meanwhile, 129 people were arrested last Tuesday for violating transit restrictions.
An analysis by Plaza Pública determined that on that night, organizers, assistants, and even PNC agents committed up to 13 crimes and misdemeanors.
For this reason, the case of Ic, and other actions by agents, are a warning sign of the current situation of the Guatemalan police department. “It is evident that the police stations are not measuring with the same rod, which allows us to think that they’re dealing with some kind of bribe,” says Carlos Menocal, former Minister of the Interior.
"The administration of Jimmy Morales dismantled the effort [to reform the police]. We must remember that the Police Reform Commission finished its work and President Morales did not heed the recommendations that were worked out. He practically threw away 9 years of police reform efforts,” he points out.
This assessment is shared by the former commissioner for Police Reform, Adela Camacho. “During the Morales administration, but especially during the administration of Enrique Degenhart, they threw away what was being done to strengthen the police. The intention was to have professional managers, but there were many dismissals without just cause,” she says.
One of the first actions of Alejandro Giammattei as president was to send the Congress of the Republic an initiative to reform legitimate defense, recognized in the Penal Code. The objective, according to the president, was to remove the fear of PNC agents from using their weapons when necessary.
Edgar Ic's family lawyer, Rootman Pérez, assures that an analysis of the murder will be carried out to determine if the crime for which the PNC agent should be tried is homicide or extrajudicial execution. "The results of the investigation will allow us to determine it," said Pérez, "but what is evident is the abuse of authority," he stressed.
FI name: July 2020