EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The warden of a prison from where 30 inmates escaped on New Year’s Day, the corpses of 10 security officers and seven prisoners left behind, has been suspended.
Alejandro Alvarado Tellez is under investigation in connection to the escape and the discovery of at least 10 cells where drugs, guns, cash and a plasma TV set were found, the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office said on Tuesday.
“Likewise, administrative and operational staff in various areas of Cereso 3 prison are under investigation regarding the introduction of forbidden items, omission of duty and the authorization of illicit activities” inside the state penitentiary, the AG’s Office said in a statement.
State authorities also announced the transfer to other jails in Mexico of 191 inmates jailed for violent crimes including murder, kidnapping and organized criminal activities. In addition, 250 state police officers and 300 Mexican National Guard troops have arrived in Juarez to reinforce security. “These actions will allow maintaining control over the prison,” the AG’s Office said.
They also confirmed that, on Monday, two state police officers assigned to track down the escapees were shot to death in the Villa del Sol neighborhood, where they ran into five armed suspects. All of the suspects were killed; none of them were escaped inmates.
Two days after the violence, state authorities outlined a timeline of events beginning with the armed incursion of several heavily armed men into the prison as the gates opened to visitors on Sunday.
The attackers, described by witnesses who talked to Mexican media as “very young men,” worked their way inside the prison indiscriminately shooting guards at each access. The men arrived at a cell block holding reputed Mexicles gang leader Ernesto Alfredo Pinon de la Cruz, aka “El Neto,” to get him out. At some point prior to the escape, seven prison guards were brought to a cell, had their hands tied behind their backs and were shot at point-blank range, sources with access to police evidence photos told Border Report.
The attackers left the prison with “El Neto” and an undetermined number of associates, while as many as two dozen other inmates took advantage of the commotion and escaped as well, state officials said on Tuesday.
State and federal authorities on Monday publicly disclosed that “El Neto” was living large inside the prison. His cell had a plasma TV, held several bottles of liquor, crystal meth and other drugs, and a safe with nearly 2 million pesos ($105,000) in cash.
So why would an inmate who was living a privileged life inside the prison orchestrate such a bloody escape?
Chihuahua Attorney General Roberto Fierro said on Tuesday that state officials were preparing to transfer “El Neto” – who was serving 140 years in prison for murder, kidnapping and organized crime – to a federal maximum-security facility. But that’s an assertion the Mexican Minister of Defense denied. Gen. Luis Crescencio Sandoval said no such request was received.
Mexicles, Gente Nueva at war in Juarez
A U.S. security expert with knowledge of how Mexican drug cartels operate offered an alternate scenario of what could have led to the escape and massacre.
Scott Stewart, vice president of intelligence for TorchStone Global, said a feud between two groups traditionally associated with the Sinaloa cartel – Mexicles and Gente Nueva – has been brewing in Juarez for the past three years.
An August 11 riot at the same prison that spilled onto the streets of Juarez and left 11 dead started with a brawl between Mexicles and Los Chapos, another Sinaloa cartel gang.
“The inmates were very comfortable in the prison. They had everything they needed,” he said. “If they decided to break out because of some threat to their lives by rivals, we could see an uptick in violence on the streets.”
The Mexicles were the “street muscle” allied with Gente Nueva when the Sinaloa cartel decided to take the Juarez drug corridor, or “plaza,” away from the Juarez cartel in the 2000s, Stewart said.
“You had the main enforcer groups: Gente Nueva for Sinaloa and La Linea for the Juarez cartel. Neither of them really had the muscle, so they both reached out to different confederations of street gangs,” Stewart said. “You had Barrio Azteca with La Linea and on the other side you had Gente Nueva working with Mexicles and Doble A. We had a lot of different organizations working with each group that were responsible for a lot of violence.”
Sinaloa got the upper hand on Juarez, but the arrest and extradition of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the “Balkanization” or regional breakup of major cartels allowed La Linea to gain power and street gangs more freedom of choice.
Stewart said the Mexicles and Gente Nueva had “a split” in 2019 and that led to some violence in Juarez. Lately, some of the Mexicles may have been working with now-jailed Caborca cartel drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, while Gente Nueva remained loyal to traditional Sinaloa cartel leadership, including the sons of “Chapo” Guzman.
“If that is indeed the case, that could be what this is about,” Stewart said. “If that’s what we’re seeing, it could signal another uptick (in violence). Every time someone makes a play for control of the Juarez plaza, there’s blood on the streets.”