3 Baja cops, civilian found decapitated; cartels blamed

By Anna Cearley
June 22, 2006

ROSARITO BEACH – The decapitated bodies of three police officers and a civilian were discovered here yesterday morning, and their heads were found hours later in Tijuana in what some see as a particularly grisly message from drug cartels.

“We haven't seen this level and kind of killing before,” said Victor Clark, a Tijuana-based human rights activist who follows crime trends.

The Arellano Félix drug trafficking organization has used Rosarito Beach for years as a place to bring in drugs by land and sea before transporting them through Tijuana and into the United States.
Other groups have been muscling their way into the area, challenging the Arellanos' power in this part of Mexico.

“We are seeing battles over the control of territories and routes . . . and the form of executions becomes more unusual as a way of sending messages that only those who are in the know understand,” Clark said.

The case was turned over to Baja California's organized crime investigations group, which mostly probes drug and kidnapping rings. State authorities provided little information other than saying that the men were abducted Tuesday evening and that their bodies were found the next day.

According to city officials, the abduction took place as two of the officers were investigating a complaint while accompanied by a police officer on leave and a civilian.

It's not unusual for Mexican police near the border to be targeted by drug groups or for authorities to run across mutilated bodies.

But the level of violence and the rank of some of the officers killed is raising questions about the motive. The assailants took pains to dump the heads in Tijuana while leaving the torsos in Rosarito Beach. All of the men's bodies showed signs of having been beaten, according to a news release from the state Attorney General's Office.

According to Rosarito Beach city officials, the three officers are: Ismael Arellano Torres, 36, who had been on work leave because of an injury; Jesús Hernández Ballesteros, 42, who oversaw the commercial police division, which provides protection for businesses; and Benjamín Fabián Ventura, 35, who was a bodyguard for city Public Security Director Valente Montijo Pompa, whose post is similar to that of police chief.

The fourth man was identified by Rosarito Beach city officials as Fernando Avila, 28, of Phoenix. It wasn't clear if he was a U.S. citizen. He had apparently been visiting Montijo and one of the other officers killed yesterday, said Felipe Hernández Villela, a spokesman for the Rosarito Beach city government.

State investigators said the officers were seized while investigating a report of an abduction.

Rosarito Beach authorities, however, said the incident began when the men attempted to investigate a report of armed men in a rural section of the city called Huahuatay.

Hernández said that authorities speaking at a news conference explained how the inactive police officer and Avila became involved:

Arellano had been at the police headquarters with Avila to pick up equipment for his next assignment as a bodyguard. He was scheduled to return to service July 2.

When the call about the armed men came through, the two active-duty officers set off to investigate in their patrol car, and Arellano and Avila tagged along in a separate car, he said. The men were apparently caught by surprise by about 70 people in 40 cars, according to Rosarito Beach city officials.

“They didn't know there were such a large number of cars involved,” Hernández said. “Lots of times, you get calls of armed people and you go out there and it turns out to be a drug addict acting disorderly.”

According to a news release from the city of Rosarito Beach, members of the armed group initially identified themselves as federal agents who had come from Mexico City to conduct a special operation. Criminals here often identify themselves as police, but the Mexican Federal Attorney General's office released a statement saying it wasn't any of its officers.

Around 7 a.m. yesterday, authorities found the bodies of the four men wrapped in blankets and tied with string and binding material, according to the Rosarito Beach news release. The bodies were left on a dirt road behind an auto shop.

Crime experts here have suspected in recent years that a rise in killings in Rosarito Beach – from six 6 in 2004 to 29 in 2005 – is the result of rival groups challenging the Arellanos, who have had ties or understandings with certain high-ranking law enforcement officials to guarantee safe passage of their drugs. That is one of the theories behind the killing last year of the city's top security administrator, Carlos Bowser Miret. Mexican authorities have never fully explained the motive of the crime.

The Arellanos, who have been arrested in greater numbers since 2000, are believed to have ceded control several years ago over eastern Baja California to rival groups, though they are said to be dominant in Tijuana – which rubs shoulders with Rosarito Beach's boundaries.

Hugo Torres, president of the Business Coordinating Council of Rosarito Beach, said it was important for yesterday's killings to be solved.

“We're concerned about this group of criminals that made their presence known in such a strong and ostentatious manner,” he said.

Yesterday afternoon, extra security measures were being taken at Rosarito Beach City Hall, where an officer with an assault rifle stood guard in front of the mayor's office. Meanwhile, the front doors of the Rosarito Beach police station were locked, though workers could be seen inside. A posted sign said the office was closed “for unforeseen circumstances.”

Staff writer Sandra Dibble contributed to this report.,0,7732459.story?coll=la-home-headlines

In Rosarito, 3 Police Officers, 1 Civilian Found Decapitated

From the Associated Press

4:43 PM PDT, June 21, 2006

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The decapitated bodies of three police officers and one civilian were found early Wednesday dumped in an empty lot in the beach city of Rosarito, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of the Mexico-California border, authorities said.

The bodies of Rosarito police officers Ismael Arellano, Jesus Hernandez and Benjamin Ventura, and a civilian who has not been identified, were discovered about 7 a.m. local time wrapped in blankets tied with tape, police said.

Police said the officers disappeared late Tuesday after responding to a report of a possible kidnapping in the Huahauatay neighborhood.

A witness told police about 100 men, some wearing uniforms resembling those of Mexico's Federal Agency of Investigation, or AFI, were at the scene of the alleged kidnapping when the officers showed up, said a spokesman with the attorney general's office in the state of Baja California, where Rosarito is located. The person asked not to be identified because he is not allowed to publicly discuss the investigation.

Police located the four heads mid-Wednesday in the border city of Tijuana, across from San Diego, the spokesman said.,0,3558530.story?coll=ktla-news-1

Police Find Decapitated Bodies Near Rosarito Beach

Richard Marosi, Times Staff Writer

June 22, 2006, 6:32 AM PDT

Mexican authorities discovered the decapitated bodies of three police officers and a fourth man Wednesday near an empty lot in the seaside town of Rosarito Beach, about 15 miles south of the border.

The officers had gone missing Tuesday after responding to a report of a kidnapping. Witnesses said that the officers were intercepted by about 100 heavily armed, masked men dressed as Mexican federal agents, said a spokesman for the Baja California state attorney general's office.

The men's bodies showed signs of torture. Their heads were found in Tijuana, several miles away. Authorities said the men were the victims of an organized crime hit, the latest in a string of killings or attempted killings of law enforcement officials in Baja California.

Rosarito Beach, a popular weekend destination for Southern Californians, is also a heavily contested transshipment point for drug traffickers.

One of the victims -- Benjamin Fabian Ventura, was the bodyguard of Rosarito Beach's former police chief, Carlos Bowser Miret, who was killed in an ambush slaying last year.

The other dead police officers are Jesus Hernandez Ballesteros and Ismael Arellano Torres. The fourth man was not identified.