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Mexico City police chief, prosecutor quit over raid

Times Staff Writer

The capital city’s police chief and head prosecutor resigned Tuesday amid growing public outrage over a bungled bar raid that resulted in 12 deaths.

The resignation of Police Chief Joel Ortega and prosecutor Rodolfo Felix came the same day the city’s Human Rights Commission issued a scathing denunciation of the deadly law enforcement crackdown last month on a club packed with teenagers celebrating the end of the school year.

Police stormed the News Divine bar in search of underage drinkers and blocked its exits, setting off a stampede in which nine young people and three police officers were suffocated in the crush.

The police “created a trap that cost the lives . . . of girls, boys and adolescents who were only trying to enjoy themselves,” the report said. “The tragedy was absolutely avoidable.”

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Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard pledged to overhaul the capital’s police force, which has a long history of corruption and poor training. The senior officer in charge of the operation has been arrested on charges of manslaughter; 17 others have been fired.

The raid was “an act against the lives of innocents, against the law . . . against the principles and policies of this government,” Ebrard said Tuesday. “We have to construct another type of police.”

Hundreds of young people were dancing and drinking in the 1,100-square-foot bar in a working-class neighborhood June 20 when police launched their daytime raid. Mexico’s legal drinking age is 18, but minors have little trouble gaining entrance to clubs in the capital.

Videos and photos of the incident made by police, patrons and the news media have horrified the public. Images made in the bar show panicked youngsters crushed tight against one another, screaming for help, while video shows dozens of police officers outside, barricading doors to keep them from fleeing.

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Witnesses said police did little to help the fallen and injured. And dozens of students who were arrested have reported being humiliated by police. The victims include underage girls who say they were groped and photographed by leering police officers who forced them to disrobe.

Ruben Tapia, father of Isis Tapia, a 16-year-old who died in the raid, said he was pleased with the Human Rights Commission’s conclusion that police bear full responsibility for what happened. But he said the resignations weren’t enough.

“They took my daughter, a girl whose life was just beginning,” he said. “We must have justice. . . . They must be punished.”

The tragedy is being viewed as a test for the popular, left-leaning Ebrard, who is seen as a likely presidential contender in Mexico’s 2012 election.

He announced this week that the city will take the building that housed the club and turn it into a youth center. The move elicited praise from some neighbors who long had complained about underage drinking and drug dealing at the site.

But it was condemned as a publicity stunt by critics who say it amounts to an illegal seizure of private property.

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marla.dickerson@latimes.com

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Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.


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