The police agency, including its director, was taken into custody as part of an “internal investigation” into possible violations of codes of conduct, Michoacan state police said in a statement. Mexican news outlets said the officers were detained on suspicion of involvement or “complicity” in the murder of a local mayoral candidate last week.
The officers were all disarmed and transferred to an internal affairs unit, state police said.
The day before, authorities had tried unsuccessfully to detain the head police official in Ocampo, Óscar González García, confiscating his weapon and cellphone, according to Milenio. But local police officers stepped in the way, with the help of civilians, to protest the arrest.
A brawl ensued in the town’s central plaza. Videos show police officers shouting and hitting one another, releasing tear gas, and exchanging gunfire. “Why are they taking him away?” one man is heard yelling over the sound of gunshots.
State authorities retreated, given the “tense” situation and to prevent worse clashes, according to La Voz de Michoacán. But they returned at dawn on Sunday to detain the Ocampo police force.
While Michoacan state police offered no link publicly to a specific crime, Mexican news outlets said the police officers were detained in connection with the assassination of Fernando Ángeles Juárez, a mayoral candidate in the coming July 1 elections who was aligned with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party.
On Thursday, Ángeles Juárez was found dead inside a hotel he owned in Ocampo, according to the state attorney general’s office. Prosecutors on Monday announced they had apprehended three men in connection with the killing. His party issued a statement condemning the killing and calling on the government to protect political candidates running in the elections.
Ángeles Juárez is one of dozens of political candidates killed amid a surge in homicides across Mexico. Since the election process began in September of last year, an estimated 130 politicians have been killed, according to Etellekt, a risk analysis consultancy.
In the same state of Michoacan, two other mayoral candidates were found dead over the course of a week. On June 14, a candidate for mayor in Taretan was found gunned down. In the rural town of Aguililla on Wednesday, independent mayoral candidate Omar Gomez Lucatero was shot and killed, according to El País.
Ahead of the July 1 elections, more than 15,000 political candidates are campaigning for more than 3,400 local, state and federal positions, according to the Associated Press.
As state police forces arrived in Ocampo on Sunday to arrest local police officers, one journalist alleged he was detained while reporting in a live broadcast. Ricardo Rangel, a journalist with Quadratín, said authorities confiscated his camera and forced him to unlock his cellphone. They proceeded to erase several photographs and other information on the device, including credit card details, Rangel told his news outlet. He said they took belongings from two other reporters.
While the internal investigation into the Ocampo police force continues, the municipality is under the control of the state police.
Ocampo residents told news reporters that the arrests had broken their trust in local law enforcement.
“We no longer trust the police,” one woman told Telemundo. “We don’t know who they’re with. We feel insecure.”