Embassy Pushes for Investigation of U.S. Citizen’s Death in Tijuana Jail : Probe: Mexican police say Mario Amado hanged himself, but his family thinks he was beaten.
Tijuana authorities are investigating the death of a 29-year-old Los Angeles man who died in jail less than an hour after Tijuana police officers arrested him at a beachfront condominium where he had been fighting with his girlfriend.
Relatives of Mario Amado of North Hollywood said Wednesday that they want a second autopsy performed in the United States. They do not believe Mexican police, who say Amado committed suicide by hanging himself from window bars with his sweater. They suspect he was abused by police.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City filed a formal protest Thursday with Mexican federal officials because Tijuana police failed to notify the consulate in Tijuana about Amado’s death last Saturday, U.S. Consul General Ted Cubbison said.
Diplomats at the consulate said they want an aggressive investigation of the incident.
“It’s strange that they did not notify us in this case,” Vice Consul Edward Stafford said. “We are usually notified of serious cases. . . . I think this is going to be pursued forcefully at the highest levels. It’s very rare for an American citizen in Mexico to die under detention.”
The Tijuana police chief said inquiries by his officers, the state judicial police and the coroner indicate that Amado killed himself.
“You have three different agencies that have looked into this,” said Luis Ortega Ramirez, director of security for the city of Tijuana. “The medical report shows no signs of violence. The death resulted from asphyxiation.”
The case is still being investigated by the Tijuana district attorney’s office, Stafford said, but the preliminary finding is suicide. Now that a formal protest has been filed in Mexico City, Mexican federal authorities may also conduct an inquiry, Cubbison said.
Relatives say Amado had been despondent in the past because of chronic alcoholism.
“He had said stuff like, ‘I don’t care if I live,’ ” said Amado’s brother, Joe. “He had a drinking problem.”
Nonetheless, Joe Amado said he does not think his brother took his own life.
“I suspect he was beaten to death and they finished him off by choking him,” Amado said. He said one of the Mexican doctors who examined the body told him there were internal injuries and asked if Mario Amado had been in a fight. He also expressed doubt that Amado could have hanged himself with his sweater from the window bars, which he said were 4 feet above the floor of the cell.
Joe Amado said he and his brother, who worked together in a family iron-working business, took their girlfriends late last Friday to Rosarito Beach, a popular tourist destination on the southwest edge of Tijuana. They stayed at a condominium that belongs to Patty Griffin, Mario Amado’s girlfriend.
Amado and Griffin spent most of the night and following day alternately drinking and quarreling, the dead man’s brother said. Police say witnesses told them the couple also consumed marijuana and cocaine.
Police officers were summoned shortly before 4:30 p.m. Saturday by a condominium security guard because of reports that Amado had struck the woman, police said.
Griffin declined to file assault charges but signed a complaint against her boyfriend for being drunk and disorderly, authorities said.
“He was arrested at the request of the lady,” Ortega said.
Officers took Amado to the municipal jail in Rosarito Beach--which is part of the city of Tijuana--to be held until he could sober up and pay a fine, police said.
About 5:15 p.m., one of three other prisoners in Amado’s jail cell yelled to officers that Amado had hanged himself, Ortega said. He was found dead, Ortega said.
Stafford said he learned of the incident Monday when he saw accounts in Tijuana newspapers. It was not clear Thursday why Mexican police did not notify the consulate of the arrest and death; Cubbison said there may have been confusion over who should notify the consulate among the different agencies that became involved in the investigation.
About 1,400 U.S. citizens were arrested in Tijuana during the last fiscal year, Cubbison said, most of them for minor offenses related to drinking and disorderly conduct.
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