MEXICO CITY (AP) - A judge ruled Monday that 12 police officers accused of opening fire on a U.S. embassy vehicle and wounding two embassy employees should remain in detention in an incident that has roiled U.S./Mexican relations and drawn fresh attention to serious problems inside Mexico's premier law-enforcement agency.
Mexican and U.S. officials have offered sketchy official accounts of the shooting that do not address the possible reason why Mexican federal police opened fire Friday on an armored sport-utility vehicle with diplomatic license plates carrying a Mexican Navy captain and two employees of the country's closest ally.
The federal police officers were ordered detained under a form of house arrest for 40 days on suspicion of abusing their authority. That charge can entail both criminal wrongdoing and extreme negligence. That leaves open the possibility of both a deliberate attack on the Americans by corrupt officers and a gross error by well-intentioned but trigger-happy police operating in a dangerous area.
Experts said that either scenario was cause for pessimism about the federal police, which has long been touted as the best hope for Mexico's gaining control of its struggle with organized crime.
"We're looking at another example of why there's significant concern over how Mexico has gone about training its federal police," said Samuel Logan, director of the security consulting firm Southern Pulse.
Mexican municipal and state police are seen as widely corrupt, incompetent or both. Military troops have been accused of an increasing number of human rights violations since President Felipe Calderon sent them into the streets in late 2006. Largely as a result, Mexico's government has made a large-scale effort in recent years to retrain the federal police, purge its ranks of corrupt officers and increase its numbers from 6,000 to more than 35,000 officers.
The reputation of the federal police suffered serious damage in June after two federal police officers fatally shot three colleagues at Mexico City's international airport. Authorities said the shooters were part of a trafficking ring that flew in cocaine from Peru. Mexico announced this month that it was replacing 348 federal police assigned to security details at the airport in an effort to quash drug trafficking through the terminal.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said Monday that two U.S. government employees and a Mexican Navy captain were heading to a training facility outside the city of Cuernavaca when they were ambushed by a group of gunmen that included federal police. The Mexican government said federal police were conducting unspecified law-enforcement activities in the rural, mountainous area known for criminal activity when they came upon the car, which attempted to flee and came under fire from gunmen in four vehicles including federal police.