Mexican Officer Charged in Jail Death of U.S. Man : Justice: A crusade by victim’s brother pays off. But he believes at least one other should be prosecuted.


After 11 months of pressuring the Mexican government, a Van Nuys man’s quest for justice in his brother’s slaying in a Rosarito jail paid off Monday when Mexican authorities confirmed the arrest of a police officer on murder charges.

But Joe Amado said he was still not satisfied with the arrest of just one officer in the June 6 slaying of his brother. Mario Amado, 29, was killed in a dank and windowless jail cell during a vacation trip the two brothers took to the seaside resort town with friends.

The case has drawn the attention of international human rights advocates, who say Amado’s persistence in demanding answers from Mexican authorities and publicizing the death of his brother has trained a spotlight on human rights abuses that are commonplace in Mexican jails.


One U.S. official joined Amado on Monday in calling for further investigation and more arrests in the case, which was initially closed by Mexican authorities as a suicide before Amado began enlisting the aid of human rights advocates, the media and American lawmakers.

“I am relieved, but I’m still not happy,” Amado, 50, said. “I won’t be happy until the whole police force, all the people involved in the cover-up, are arrested for corruption.”

Authorities in the state of Baja California confirmed the arrest of Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores, 35, a Rosarito municipal police officer assigned to the jail. They said there may be other arrests, depending on Verduzco’s testimony. Verduzco was charged with murder Monday.

He was arrested Saturday afternoon as he arrived at work at the police station where Mario Amado was found dead in his cell. Cmdr. Jose Encinas Filatoff of the Baja California state judicial police in Tijuana said he could not comment on details of the investigation because it is ongoing. Other authorities said they believe Amado was drunk and unruly, and that he was beaten to death by one or more officers trying to subdue him.

The rail-thin North Hollywood welder had been detained in the cell for less than an hour on drunk and disorderly conduct charges when he was hanged or strangled.

Mexican authorities initially insisted that Mario committed suicide by fashioning a noose from a pullover sweater and hanging himself from a crossbar of the cell door. But Joe Amado maintained that his only brother was murdered, probably by police. He commissioned independent autopsies that ruled out the Mexican government’s contention of suicide.

Because of Joe Amado’s successful efforts in publicizing the case, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari agreed in January to make sure those responsible for the murder would be prosecuted. Salinas was traveling Monday, and his spokesman said he didn’t have enough information on the arrest to comment.

“We are deeply committed to fighting all human rights abuses in Mexico,” said the spokesman, Gabriel Guerra, “and a point has been made of not allowing impunity in violations of human rights and other crimes by police officers or any others.”

Officials with the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles and in Baja California said the arrest proves that they are taking the case seriously and that they will not tolerate human rights abuses of U.S. citizens, Mexican nationals or others in police custody. Rosarito authorities also are investigating the death of a Mexican national who died under similar circumstances in the same jail three months ago. State and federal officials throughout Mexico have recently launched crackdowns against police accused of human rights abuses.

Amado and Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), who also pressured Salinas to intervene, said they will continue to press for more arrests because they believe at least two officers must have been involved in Mario’s slaying. An autopsy commissioned by Amado said that Mario Amado probably had been knocked out by blows to the liver before he was killed.

“I always knew there were two who did it--one would have to hold Mario up while the other put the noose around him,” Amado said. He said a photograph taken of inmates in an adjacent cell after the slaying shows one holding up two fingers, which Amado said meant two officers were responsible.

Berman, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Amado’s efforts, saying his constituent was responsible for the investigation and arrest. Berman said he too believes at least two men were responsible and that others perpetrated the “big lie” that Mario committed suicide to cover up his murder.

“It’s nice to see a cover-up and abuse of power rectified,” Berman said. “I know without Joe all this wouldn’t have happened. And without the media it wouldn’t have happened, and without us it wouldn’t have happened. This would have been swept under the rug if we hadn’t made a fuss.”

Berman said that because Mexican authorities were “to some extent embarrassed into reopening the case,” he was satisfied they were now taking their continuing investigation seriously.

“I would not assume bad faith by officials in Tijuana until we see the end of the story,” he said. “The key question is whether the prosecuting authorities want to get to the bottom of this. If they do, they now have the keys to do it.”

Martin Esquivel Gutierrez, the lead investigator on the original case, said again Monday that he was satisfied with his inquiry. In an interview from Tijuana, he maintained that over a 72-hour period he interrogated the four male drunks who were in the cell with Mario Amado. He concluded that they did not see or hear anything suspicious before Amado’s death.

“They never mentioned that he was hit by any police officer,” Esquivel said. “I think that’s what they have said afterward. But they never mentioned it to me.”

Esquivel said he interviewed two police officers but that he never talked to Verduzco.

Amado has pledged to continue pressuring the Mexican government to improve its human rights record, and has formed a loosely knit coalition of victims and their families. Among them is the family of Raul Langarica, a Los Angeles resident killed last month after being put in a Guadalajara jail cell during a trip to visit relatives. A police officer has been arrested in that case.

On Saturday, Amado held the latest of his many news conferences, this time to announce a boycott of Mexican goods and services, and to urge Americans to avoid travel to Mexico until reforms are made.

Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella contributed to this story.