Crime & Justice

Doubts swirl around woman’s death at police lockup in Mexico

By Jose de Jesus Cortes

Salina Cruz, Mexico, Aug 24 (EFE).- The father of a woman who perished late last week inside a municipal police lockup in the southeastern Mexican city of Salina Cruz has refused so far to accept the official cause of death, saying in an interview with Efe on Wednesday that his daughter did not commit suicide.

Abigail Hay Urrutia was stopped by police last Friday amid an argument with her boyfriend and detained for an alleged administrative offense, according to police, who said she was subsequently jailed after resisting arrest. Hours later, she was dead inside her cell.

The official report states the 30-year-old used her underwear to hang herself inside her cell, but on Monday her father, Jose Luis Hay, observed that she had a deep neck wound and refused to accept that finding.

He also has refused to accept the results of the initial autopsy, which found that the mother of two children aged three and 10 died of “asphyxia by hanging,” and therefore has refused to bury her.

On Tuesday, at the man’s request, the body was taken to a private funeral home so the Oaxaca state Attorney General’s Office and forensics personnel could perform a second autopsy.

The Oaxaca state AG’s office said afterward that the second post-mortem examination reached the same conclusion as the first.

Felipe Gama Casas, an official with Oaxaca’s Health Secretariat who participated in the second autopsy, clarified though that no determination was made on who was responsible for the woman’s death by asphyxiation.

“We found that basically the cause of death coincides with what the medical expert who performed the first autopsy established, which is asphyxia by hanging. What was the mechanism? Who did it? All of that is outside our purview,” he said.

Hay told Efe Wednesday that he has felt deep emotional distress since his daughter was violently detained last Friday by municipal police.

“It’s a very strong pressure, a stress, an anguish, because how is it possible that I see her and a bit later she’s not there? That’s painful,” he said. “I’ve seen the cases of woman who have died of femicides (killings of women because of their gender) and I never believed this would happen to me because we’re peaceful.”

The family has not yet said if it will accept the results of the second autopsy.

On Monday, Hay said that to proceed with the burial the family merely wanted to see the evidence used to determine the cause of death.

“(So that) we don’t need to exhume my daughter; I don’t want them playing with a human being’s body,” he said.

The controversial death recalls other cases of police abuse and negligence in Mexico, where an average of 10 women are killed every day, according to official figures.

By opting for a second autopsy, Abigail’s father sought to avoid a repeat of the controversial case of Debanhi Escobar, a young woman whose death in April in the northern state of Nuevo Leon was initially ruled an accident.

In early July, authorities exhumed Escobar’s body to perform a third autopsy and compare the forensic reports – one produced by the state prosecutor’s office and another stemming from an independent examination that the family had requested.

Abigail’s body was returned on Tuesday to her home, where a wake was held in the space she had set aside for a modest laundry service she hoped would provide enough income to support her two children.

The Oaxaca state AG’s office also said in a statement that it was carrying out the “pertinent investigations” to determine whether the police who took part in the arrest and detention bore any responsibility for her death, adding that it was probing the matter as a potential femicide.

Oaxacan authorities have not said if those law-enforcement personnel have been suspended or are still on active duty.

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