The police who did not want to be police

This investigation was carried out over four years,collecting testimonies, visiting cemeteries, coroners’ offices, interviewing officials and specialists, and filing freedom of information requests.Some of that information was only released after legal challenges. In all that time, little or nothing has changed: there are people searching for disappeared family members and there are unidentified dead buried in common graves.

By: Hasta Encontrarles


Not all police are bad, but neither are all officers good. There are even those who prefer to eschew their role as protectors of the law and choose to become criminals. There are more than 100 open cases in the state Attorney General’s office, and even more filed with the state Human Rights Commission (CEDH), where police officers are accused of participating in enforced disappearances. Only one has resulted in a trial and sentence.


“Despite the indications that officers are actively involved in crimes of enforced disappearance, there is not, among the cases examined, any investigations into the members of the police force. There are cases where victims and witnesses claim that those who had taken the people who are now disappearedwere uniformed personnel in marked patrol cars,” according to the CEDH’s general recommendation 01/2020.

That conclusion was reached after only a partial examination of the case files, only 30 of more than 150 in which police from all levels—municipal, state, and judicial—are allegedly involved.

The Attorney General’s office has not responded to the CEDH’s analysis.

Among the case files examined, there are those that accuse active and former officers from the former judicial police force (now the investigative police) of involvement, with most accusations occurring in Ahome and Culiacán.

Among the officers who allegedly participated in disappearances are the names of several decorated agents, and others who were assigned to key public security roles in the state, particularly in the northern part of the state—where the most clandestine graves have been found.

These include Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum, Jesús Jesús Carrasco Ruiz, and Joel Medina Gastélum.

Beyond their alleged involvement, all three were police officials in the north during the so-called “war on drugs.” They were assigned to fight crime, but in their files are claims of torture, murder, and disappearances.

In 2018 they were murdered, in a case that remains unsolved, taking to their graves scores of stories about the possible whereabouts of Luis Reynaldo, David, Margarita and Alfredo Elías, or Eduardo.

Luis Reynaldo

Fina Herrera, Luis Reynaldo’s sister, recounts:

His name was Luis Reynaldo Herrera Ruiz. When my brother was disappeared, on January 17, 2015, it was a Sunday, and I call that day Black Sunday because it was the day that destroyed my life.

Thanks to god, I have my children, my husband, and my sister, but one piece of my heart is missing.

On May 15, 2017, I was watching television with my daughter, and she told me that there was a group of searchers who had found three bodies in Nuevo Horizontes, and that we should go to see. When we went, they weren’t there anymore, they had left, but I found them on Facebook and got in touch with Mirna (the leader of Rastreadores de El Fuerte) but I was very distrustful, and I asked her to erase everything I had sent, then one day I went to the office on Juárez, because I was really interested even though I was scared that I was being followed, that I would be taken, because I knew there were cops around there.

I ended up meeting her in a Soriana supermarket. We agreed to meet to eat sopes, and when I saw she had protection my daughter said to trust her and I did, and I told her the whole story.

My brother was a musician, he worked in the Central de Abastos. When he was taken he was 49, but he didn’t look it, because he was thin and kind of disheveled, that’s why they called him cabrón. He and I were like one.

He was a musician, he played the accordion or the guitar, and had a group called Los Bribones de Sinaloa. He also sang, and he was good, and always knew how to get me. I always asked for ‘When you stop loving me.’


“When you stop loving me the seas will dry up

When you stop loving me the stars will not shine

When you stop loving me, the flowers of spring

Will be so sad

Will be so sad

When they see me crying

-Los Alegres de Terán

The last time we sang together was the Christmas, before he was taken.

They had been watching him since the 16th of January, there were people on foot and patrol cars. That was when Amarillas was here, Gerardo Amarillas.

They took him, they took him away. Near the house you saw two patrol cars, stopped on the opposite corner with their lights turned down. 

On the morning of the 17th of January, someone knocked on his door, but people had seen the two municipal police cars take him away before dawn. His truck was found a block and a half from the house.

I hope to find him, and though I wish he would come to the house and knock on the door, and tell me that he had just been taken to work, I have these daydreams, but when a clandestine grave is found I always think it might be him.

The Injunction Will Not be Obeyed

David Mendoza Marín, Margarita Marín Yan and Alfredo Elías Marín Bustos were stopped by the municipal police of Ahome on July 21, 2015, and subsequently disappeared. The head of the force at the time was Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum. was Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum..

Alfredo managed to contact family members and give some details about his detention, among those that he had been taken in a compact car.

Carola Marín, a relative of the three youths, looked for them in all the police stations, but none had records of an arrest that matched those characteristics.

She appealed to the state Attorney General’s office, where she was told that in order to file a report of enforced disappearance, it was necessary to wait 72 hours.

Carola insisted, however, and a case was opened, naming at least 10 municipal police officers. The federal Attorney General’s office also opened an investigation. Neither investigation progressed.

The family members requested the assistance of IDHEAS, an NGO that conducts strategic human rights litigation, and succeeded in gaining the support of the UN’s Committee Against Enforced Disappearance and the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, which demanded investigation and immediate action.

Both the state and federal Attorney General’s offices ignored the international organizations.

IDHEAS requested an injunction from federal judges due to the inaction of the state and federal investigators, which obliged the institutions to release the results of the initial investigations. The two institutions did not provide information about any advances in the cases. After two years, no actions had been taken to locate the three missing youths.

Amarillas Gastélum was the director of public security in Ahome, and the coordinator of security in the northern region. During the governorship of Mario López Valdez, Amarillas Gastelum was one of the most powerful law enforcement agents in the state, and was in charge of overseeing the investigation into the disappearance. It was he who ignored the international organizations.

Due to a federal order, the investigations were forced to continue, however, and ultimately the head of the judicial police, Jesús Antonio Aguilar Íñiguez, issued three arrest warrants for three officers. ‘Chuy Toño’, as Aguilar was known, was head of the judicial police between 2011 and 2016, and was Amarillas Gastélum’s commander—and thus had to alert him to the arrest warrants.

, was head of the judicial police between 2011 and 2016, and was Amarillas Gastélum’s commander—and thus had to alert him to the arrest warrants.

The three police officers named in the case escaped before they could be apprehended. The family of the disappeared accused law enforcement of complicity.

Subsequently the family began to experience retaliation, including death threats, which led them to flee the state.

On July 2, 2018, Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum was assassinated in a seafood restaurant in Los Mochis.

One month later, el 7 de agosto del 2018 August 7, 2018, seven bodies were found in clandestine graves by the Rastreadoras de la Paz collective, a group that includes more than 50 families of disappeared persons in the north of Sinaloa.

Six months after that, three of the seven bodies were identified as David, Margarita, and Alfredo Elías. They had been shot in the head before being buried.

Lawyers for the family filed another injunction and in April 2020 obtained a definitive finding, that noted all the irregularities in the case, including the delays in opening the investigation and the complicity of police commanders.

In that file, it is revealed that a judge ordered an investigation into Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum, but he was murdered before he could appear in court.


December 12, 2011, Eduardo González Rodríguez, 17 years old, was detained by the municipal police of Ahome and accused of selling illegal drugs.

The commander of the force, Jesús Carrasco Ruiz, was also the coordinator of the judicial police in the northern region of the state. The decision was made to transport Eduardo to Culiacán, but before doing so he was tortured, leaving his body swollen and covered in bruises.

“I fought to find out what was happening with my son, until three days later I found him in Culiacán, really battered, tortured beyond belief. He even had to see a psychologist, and a doctor, because he couldn’t move his arm,” says Reyna Isabel Rodríguez Peñuelas.

The police beat him with paddles, they poured water on him and shocked him with electric wires, they made him soil himself from the pain, until a journalist stopped them.

“She was there, and she heard the screams, and when she opened the door of the station she realized what was happening and told to stop, and if she hadn’t they would have killed him,” she says.

They changed his clothes and took him to Culiacán, where the beating continued. Then he was presented in a press conference as one of the leaders of the “Los Mazatlecos” criminal group, which according to the United States Treasury Department is the second most important producer and trafficker of methamphetamine to the country.

“His bottom was practically black, he had been beaten so much, even once they got him to Culiacán, and a judicial police officer threatened that he had to sign whatever statement they gave him,” Eduardo’s mother says.

Eduardo stayed in Culiacán, in the Juvenile Detention Facility, where he spent a year before being transferred to the prison in Los Mochis, where he was jailed another two years and nine months, before being released on good conduct.

He then went to Guasave, and began dealing drugs again, even though his release had been conditional.

On February 9, 2016, he was arrested again, this time in Juan José Ríos, while driving with his sister-in-law Zumiko Lizbeth Félix Ortega. According to witnesses, Joel Medina Gastélum was involved in the arrest.

But Eduardo and Zumiko did not appear in a jail, and since that day both are disappeared.

“As time goes on, I’ve lost the hope of seeing my son, and sometimes I say that I want to die and that I’ll never find him, though sometimes I also get my hopes up because I see that my compañeras are finding their children,” Reyna says.

“I’ve always been distrustful of the DNA tests, and if one day they give me a bag of skinny bones, I’m not going to believe it, because I’d want to see him alive again, chubby, the way he was when he was taken.”

Editor’s Note:


Joel Medina Gastélum was assassinated on February 25, 2018 on the campus of the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa in Los Mochis while studying for a law degree. 

His colleagues in the Ahome municipal police force paid tribute to his work as an officer.

None of the crimes in which he was implicated were investigated while he was alive.

was Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum. Gerardo Amarillas Gastélum was assassinated on July 2, 2018, in a seafood restaurant in Los Mochis.

No one paid tribute to his work. None of the crimes in which was implicated were investigated while he was alive.

None of the crimes in which he was implicated were investigated while he was alive.

Jesús Carrasco Ruiz was assassinated on September 15, 2018, while he was studying law at the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa in Culiacán. No one paid tribute to his work. None of the crimes in which was implicated were investigated while he was alive.

No one paid tribute to his work. None of the crimes in which was implicated were investigated while he was alive.

None of the crimes in which he was implicated were investigated while he was alive.

This work was made by Espejo Magazine, Juan Panadero, the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies of the University of California at San Diego y Mente Interactiva.

Cecilia Fafán, Michael Lettieri, César Hernández, Marcos Vizcarra, Alexis Rubio, Josué David Piña, Jimena Rivera, Mariel Yee, Nidia Azucely, Dante Aguilera Benitez, Hëb Martinez and Vivi Santana participated in this first edition of Hasta Encontrarles.