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A Mexican cop in search of sanctuary

A Juarez cop fled to Texas after drug cartels attacked him. Will a judge send him back?


Calderon’s campaign set off bloody conflicts between drug gangs themselves and also between those gangs and government forces. In Juarez, where two cartels are dueling for control of an important smuggling route amid thousands of federal troops, the body count for the year climbed to more than 1,900 at the end of October.

That already tops the total for all of 2008, according to tallies kept by the newspaper El Norte. At least 44 cops and federal agents are among that number. Money was once paid to top police commanders and distributed downward for obedience, but that all changed after Calderon launched his war.

“Now, there’s no more money,” Alarcon says. “It’s ‘You follow the rules, or you die.’”

Juarez officers have been slaughtered in broad daylight, assassinated in their homes, kidnapped and left mutilated at station houses. Once an officer is killed, folkloric songs celebrating gangster life — known as corridos — play over the police radio to emphasize the credibility of cartel life or death commands. At one point last year, the cartel erected a poster on a public thoroughfare. Under the heading “For those who didn’t believe” were the names of all assassinated officers. Under the heading “For those who should believe” was a long list of officers still alive and working. Galindo’s name was on that list, Alarcon says.

In this environment of terror, Alarcon and Galindo came to be more than just comrades over the years. They grew a deep trust of one other in a department where mutual trust disappeared years ago. After work most nights, they caravanned together away from the station, private weapons readied in laps, headlights turned off until one or the other of them was safely at home.

“I always respected him a lot,” Alarcon says. “He saved a lot of his men’s lives by getting them fast out of the wrong neighborhoods. He was my captain, but outside of the station, he was my friend.”

During their four years together, the partners managed to avoid trouble with the cartel, until the April day they picked up the two drug dealers. Back at the station, none of the other officers would speak to the pair or go near them as though their death sentences might be contagious.

The following day, Alarcon and Galindo resisted going out on calls, knowing fellow cops would report their movements to assassins. And they knew the cartel monitored radio dispatches. When the shift ended, Abraham Carrillo, a rookie officer too new to have been corrupted, begged them to drive him to an auto parts store. Galindo didn’t want to take him but gave in, and the three officers went to an AutoZone.

In the parking lot, a pair of SUVs screeched up, one on either side of their vehicle, according to gruesome press reports of the attack. Alarcon recalls seeing a man leap out with a fully automatic AK-47. The first fusillade hit the windshield and killed Carrillo in the backseat. Galindo, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest, managed to fire two rounds before seven bullets punctured his vest and body. Alarcon, largely unscathed, could manage only to fire his Beretta 9mm blindly; he emptied its 15-round magazine through the windshield. He believes he hit one of the assailants, because the shooting stopped. “I heard one of them say, ‘Pick him up. Let’s go,’” he says.