In May, Mexico’s National Security Commission informed the public that federal police had engaged in a gun battle with a large group of narcos from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The firefight occurred at 112-hectare farm known as "Rancho del Sol," which overlooks a highway in the small municipality of Tanhuato, in the southern state of Michoacán.
The Security Commission said the gunfight started at 7 a.m. and lasted three hours. The narco gang had allegedly attempted to bring down a Mexican Black Hawk helicopter, but were ultimately outnumbered by police 2:1. The result was bloody: 42 of the alleged narcos and one federal agent were killed — an unusually lopsided outcome.
Authorities denied the incident was an extrajudicial killing, as some suspected. But almost three months later, investigators from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and local prosecutors have told me that the crime scene contradicts what the National Security Commission and the Federal Police reported.
Federal Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo has denied that any extrajudicial killings took place and did not comment further for this article. Prosecutors in Michoacán say that the investigation should continue at a federal level and the Attorney General’s Office, which has yet to confirm or deny the claims made in this report, has announced it will take over the investigation once local authorities conclude their “analysis.”
I had access to the official 80-page document that synthesized their crime scene investigations. A chapter is assigned to each corpse found at the scene, complete with photographs of the dead. The investigation includes ballistic tests, notes about the deceased's proximity to weapons, and specifics on the types of wounds that caused each death.
The information in the file seems to suggest that only 12 of the 42 alleged narcos were indeed killed in action while the rest could have been executed, based on the following facts:
1. Of the 42 dead found at the scene, 23 had wounds that were not consistent with a typical gunfight. Many of the dead had multiple bullet wounds with a back to chest trajectory, shot at close range — some execution-style. During engagement the usual bullet wound has a chest to back trajectory since the subject is facing his enemy. One of the victims was shot nine times in the back. Another corpse had no bullet wounds but his body showed evidence that he was beaten to death.
2. Of the 43 firearms that the federal police presented as belonging to the criminals, there’s evidence that only 12 of the confiscated weapons were fired. So presumably 30 of the 42 alleged narcos did not fire any weapons — unless they were sharing these in the midst of battle.
3. Photographs of the crime scene show bodies with muddy hands, but clean weapons laying next to them, suggesting the scene was manipulated and the weapons were placed there. One photograph shows a burned man, holding an undamaged weapon. Other guns found at the scene were loaded with cartridges that don’t match the firearm model.
There’s tentative evidence that what happened in Tanhuato could have been driven by vengeance. Two months before the bloody episode, a commando from an elite branch of the federal police was ambushed in Ocotlán, Jalisco — 34 of the deceased sicarios where from this town. The narco ambush resulted in the death of five officers.
Carlos Loret de Mola is an award winning Mexican journalist and popular news anchor of Televisa’s “Primero Noticias.” He has served as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, Haiti, Egypt, Syria and Libya and writes for a number of news outlets on issues ranging from the drug war to international politics. Carlos has broken many influential stories about the operations that led to the capture of some of Mexico’s most wanted criminals. In 2001 he wrote the book "The Deal. Mexican economy trapped by drug trafficking." He is a frustrated chef, runner and guitar troubadour… but he keeps trying.