Anti-narcotics police in Nicaragua mistakenly massacred a family then allegedly tried to cover it up, sparking a backlash against a force that has previously been held up as an example in the region.
Preliminary reports state the police were lying in wait for a drug shipment when they were approached by a car carrying eight members of a local family. Mistaking the car for the suspected drug traffickers, the police opened fire, killing three people, including two children aged 11 and 12, reported La Prensa.
Witnesses on the scene told media how, after the shooting, police sealed off the area and prevented anyone from reaching the vehicle despite the cries for help that could be heard from within. The witnesses claimed police then confiscated cellular phones of people who had been filming the scene, then planted several suspicious objects in the car, according to La Prensa.
A police statement said the officers had opened fire as the car had “similar characteristics” to the drug-ladened vehicle they were expecting, and that the driver had accelerated when given signals to pull over. The driver said he had not stopped even when the shooting started since he believed the police were planning on hijacking the car or robbing the passengers of their valuables, reported El Nuevo Diario.
The killings provoked condemnation from various community organizations, human rights groups, and the political opposition, as well as whipping up outrage on social media, with widespread calls for police chief Aminta Granera to resign (see below), reported La Prensa.
Una policía profesional no mata a personas inocentes. Una policía corrupta y politizada si asesina y tortura. #AmintaRenunciaYA.
— Camilo de Castro (@CamiloBelli) July 12, 2015
— El Estallido (@ElEstallidoNica) July 13, 2015
The 14 police officers involved in the shooting are now under investigation, reported El Nuevo Diario.
InSight Crime Analysis
The massacre is certainly the most high profile and dramatic example of extrajudicial killing by the Nicaraguan police, but it is not the only one. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) has documented numerous cases in recent years of excessive force resulting in the death of people that were innocent of any crime or had only committed minor infractions.
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These cases stand in stark contrast to the Nicaraguan police’s reputation. The force is held in high esteem regionally to the extent that neighboring countries with much higher violence rates have considered importing Nicaragua’s policing model.