MEXICO CITY – Thirty inmates escaped from a penitentiary in the northern Mexican city of Apodaca where another 44 prisoners were killed over the weekend in a brutal fight, Nuevo Leon state Gov. Rodrigo Medina confirmed Monday.
He also said the prison’s director, Jeronimo Miguel Andres Martinez; deputy director, Juan Hernandez; and security chief, Oscar Devece Laureano, were removed from their posts and have been placed under investigation.
The chief of Nuevo Leon’s prison system, Ernesto Garcia Guerrero, and 18 guards on duty at the time of the melee also have been fired and are being investigated.
Speaking at a press conference, Medina said “the loss of human life” in Sunday morning’s fight was regrettable and that support was being provided to the slain inmates’ families.
He read the names of all of the prisoners killed at the correctional facility except for two still-unidentified victims, and said the incident may have stemmed from another case of corruption among prison officials.
“It’s difficult for us to acknowledge that the betrayal, corruption and complicity of some can obstruct the work of the honest police, soldiers and marines who risk their lives every day for the security of the people of Nuevo Leon,” Medina added.
The governor also confirmed that the Apodaca prison was plagued by overcrowding and said most of the escaped prisoners, 25, were behind bars for “federal offenses,” including organized crime and drug trafficking, while the remaining five were being held for violations of state law.
The fugitives are members of the Los Zetas drug cartel – including its leader in the northern city of Monterrey, arrested last year – while most of the people killed in the fight belonged to that gang’s main rival, the Gulf cartel, the governor said.
Earlier reports had indicated that most of the fatalities were Zetas.
Medina also lamented the increase in recent years in the number of inmates behind bars for “drug trafficking, organized crime, possession and illegal use of weapons, as well as violent robbery, extortion ... and kidnapping.”
The governor urged citizens to help authorities recapture the fugitives, offering a reward of “up to 10 million pesos ($787,400)” for information leading to their whereabouts.
Nuevo Leon state Security Council spokesman Jorge Domene, for his part, said Sunday night that the 44 people killed in the prison fight were stabbed with sharp objects, stoned or bludgeoned with bars.
He said investigators have determined that “rival organized crime groups inside the prison” participated in the fight.
Domene had said earlier that the prison was 80 percent overcrowded and that the number of inmates in cell block D, where all of the deaths occurred, was double that area’s capacity.
The Zetas, a band of special forces deserters turned outlaws, spent years as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel before going into business for themselves.
A territorial battle between those two drug cartels and clashes pitting criminals against the security forces claimed some 2,000 lives in Nuevo Leon last year.
started around 2:00 a.m. Sunday in the prison in Apodaca, a suburb of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon’s capital, Domene said Sunday.
Federal and state security forces regained control of the prison Sunday morning and the Nuevo Leon state government set up an area to assist inmates’ relatives, who gathered around the prison seeking information about loved ones.
Sunday’s fight produced the largest death toll from an incident of this type in the past few years in Mexico.
A fight last month at a prison in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas left 31 inmates dead.
A fire apparently caused by a short-circuit at the prison in Apodaca left 14 inmates dead and 35 others injured on May 20. EFE