Video Shows 53 Inmates Escaping Mexican Prison

By: Julie Watson, Associated Press Email
By: Julie Watson, Associated Press Email

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Security camera footage shows that guards at a Mexican prison nonchalantly stood by as 53 dangerous inmates walked out - and didn't rush into action with their guns drawn until well after their convoy of escape vehicles had disappeared into the inky night.

The footage, first published by Reforma newspaper Thursday and then released publicly by the Attorney General's Office, provides a rare inside look at lax security inside Mexico's prisons, a problem that makes prosecuting drug smugglers vastly more difficult. Interpol described the worst of the criminals, who escaped without firing a shot, as "a risk to the safety and security of citizens around the world."

Interpol issued an international security alert for 11 of the prisoners involved in the 2-minute-and-52-second prison break Saturday in Cieneguillas, in the northern state of Zacatecas.

About a dozen of the prisoners were drug cartel suspects. Several had been jailed for kidnapping, said Ricardo Najera, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.

The inmates stole 23 guns from a prison storage room before escaping, Najera said.

The video shows bored-looking guards watching TV before one of the prisoners opens a gate to his cell block and then orders a group of inmates to follow him into the guards' room. It is unclear if the prisoner had a key to the cell block or if the gate was unlocked.

The guards step aside, making no moves to stop the escape, until they are shoved into the cell block by the inmates, some of whom are armed.

Prisoners then cover the camera with a blanket.

Meanwhile, a second security camera outside the prison filmed the arrival of gunmen in police cars with flashing lights shortly before 5 a.m. Two guards run to open the front gate without questioning the drivers.

Eight gunmen wearing jackets with federal police insignia then enter the prison building and escort the inmates to the cars waiting in the prison parking lot. After they are gone, one guard with his hands bound by plastic luggage ties is seen walking calmly down an empty hall.

Only after the convoy is well out of the picture can guards be seen running toward the gate, some crouching with their guns drawn. Reforma added in a caption that the guards appeared to overacting for the cameras, "in Jim Carrey style."

Najera said 51 people have been ordered jailed for 30 days pending an investigation into their possible involvement, including the director of the prison and all 44 guards on duty during the escape.

He said only 15 of the fugitives had been convicted, and that it was illegal to keep them in the same cell block as the 38 whose cases were pending. The prison director was being questioned about why the 53 were kept together, Najera said.

Najera said the police uniforms the gunmen were wearing were either outdated or fakes, and the vehicles they came in were not real police cars. Investigators, however, have not ruled out the possibility federal police involvement.

Interpol said Mexican authorities identified 11 as the most dangerous of the 53 escapees. The alert - an "orange notice" - provides identifying details for each fugitive to all 187 member countries of the Lyon, France-based international police agency.

The government is offering up to 3 million pesos ($230,000) for information leading up to capture of any of the gunmen and 1 million pesos ($77,000) for the fugitives, Najera said.

Two of the fugitives had been arrested on Jan. 22 by soldiers who seized 11.4 tons of marijuana at a chile-drying warehouse that belongs to the brother of Sen. Ricardo Monreal of Zacatecas, Najera said.

Monreal has temporarily stepped down to cooperate with the investigation, although Najera said he is not considered a suspect in the case and has not been questioned.

Mexico has struggled to reduce corruption and ineptitude in its justice system. President Felipe Calderon has acknowledged that jailed drug traffickers often operate from behind bars, and has extradited a record number of traffickers to serve time in more secure U.S. prisons.

Two prison guards are serving up to 19 years for aiding the escape of Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, alleged Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. He rode out of federal prison in Jalisco state in a laundry cart after bribing guards in 2001.

And Otto Roberto Herrera Garcia, who helped turn Guatemala into a corridor for U.S.-bound cocaine, escaped in May 2005 from a jail in southern Mexico City. That jail's warden, his deputy and 10 others were arrested for allegedly accepting bribes to facilitate his freedom.
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Associated Press Writer Alexandra Olson in Mexico City contributed to this story.


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