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Unofficial police kill Mexican police chief

August 1, 2014

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A small-town police chief in southern Mexico was shot to death by dozens of vigilante-like “community police” who burst into his office and tried to “arrest” him for alleged links to a criminal gang.

A leader of the community police, Eliseo Villar, said Friday that police chief Miguel Gutierrez opened fire on the men who were trying to detain him in the village of Tlacoachistlahuaca, where he commanded the municipal police force.

Villar said the men, who were from the nearby town of Cochoapa, returned fire, killing Gutierrez. Both towns are in southern Guerrero state.

They had accused Gutierrez of hiding as many as five bodies in clandestine burial pits.

It is unclear whether community police are authorized to detain public servants. Guerrero state gives such groups some law enforcement powers, but only in their own communities and for minor crimes.

Villar defended the mob’s actions, saying “community police” can arrest officials “if there is clear evidence of a crime, and in this case, there was clearly a crime.”

However, he acknowledged that none of the bodies had yet been found.

Guerrero state prosecutors said the shooting occurred Thursday and that Gutierrez’ body and some weapons taken from his police office, were found later at the community police headquarters.

Formed in largely Indian communities in the 1990s, the community police forces exist in dozens of towns in Guerrero and are allowed to arrest people and mete out justice for minor crimes. Punishments usually involve confinement in improvised jails and community service.

But the groups have constantly bristled at legal limits that state they can only exercise their authority within the limits of their own towns. Confrontations with authorities have occurred in the past and included beatings and scuffles, but have seldom resulted in deaths.

The prosecutors’ office said in a press statement it was investigating charges of homicide, kidnapping and gun theft in the case, and pledged to bring those responsible to justice. But in a sign of how remote and lawless the area is, detectives went to the scene of the killing accompanied by Mexican army troops.

Vigilante movements also have sprung up in the neighboring state of Michoacan, but many of those armed citizen patrols now have been absorbed into a state rural police force.

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