Ten hours after the chase and shooting that ended with three police officers killed on Monday, police radio operators received a call alerting them to a dead body at the intersection of San José and Muñoz Rivera streets.
The body of David E. Rivera Bátiz, 25, a resident of Ponce, was found in an illegal dump with a handwritten message on cardboard that read: “I am responsible for the murder of the police. Here he is.”
Rolando Trinidad, director of the Auxiliary Superintendence of Criminal Investigations, said the body had “similar characteristics” to the person who at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, in an attempt to flee from the police, the man involved in a carjacking shot three officers from the Puerto Rico Police Department and the Carolina Municipal Police, killing Luis Marrero Díaz, Luis Salamán Conde and Eliezer Hernández Cartagena. A fourth officer, Ángel Luis Colón, was injured.
Trinidad, however, stressed that they still cannot confirm that it is the same person and affirmed that they are investigating whether there were other individuals somehow involved in the events that spread sorrow across the island and that led Governor Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to declare three days of mourning.
“A body matching the description was found, but the investigation continues and we won’t consider the investigation concluded until the person has been identified,” said the officer in a press conference at Police Headquarters.
The first incident happened when the police officers went to assist with a car crash near Roberto Clemente Avenue in Carolina, explained Police Commissioner Antonio López. “As they were approaching the vehicles, this individual surprises them and starts shooting at them, one of the municipal police officers falls to the pavement and the chase to the Baldorioty area begins,” said the officer before going into a meeting with the 13 area commanders at the police headquarters. Salamán Conde, from the Carolina Municipal Police, fell injured to the ground in that incident.
It was reported that initially the attacker unsuccessfully tried to steal a Carolina municipal police motorcycle. He then proceeded to carry out an armed robbery of a white Hyundai Accent vehicle, with which he fled through 65 Infantería Avenue and then through the Expreso Román Baldorioty de Castro highway.
Near the Embassy Suites and the Mundo Feliz condominium, he opened fire killing the other two officers. The car stolen was found on Júpiter Street, which goes through the Luis Llorens Torres condominium, where the subject reportedly left walking.
Shortly after the shooting, the Police searched several units in the residential and seized weapons, ammunition, and other items. Since Monday night, there have been more than 300 officers in the neighborhood. Alexis Torres, Puerto Rico Public Safety Secretary, said they would stay there while the case is being investigated.
The Justice Department assigned seven prosecutors to the investigation, partly due to the complexity of the scene. Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), assigned agents to collaborate with the investigation. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Stephen Muldrow, made all his resources available to the police to solve the murder of three officers.
Trinidad stressed that people´s cooperation is important to solve this crime and indicated they were examining security videos of the area where the shooting took place to gather evidence that could be used in court.
Part of the evidence consists of the autopsies of the police officers, which were completed yesterday, said María Conte Miller, executive director of the Forensic Sciences Institute.
In scenarios where a person seems to have been killed by people linked to drug trafficking gangs is not new and, in this case, it is a logical reaction of the owners of drug selling points who can see their sales fall when more police officers are patrolling the area, agreed criminology experts consulted by El Nuevo Día.
“It is striking that the underworld killed the person who allegedly did it, something that is not yet known to be true because it is under investigation. Now, that’s not unusual. It has happened before, but this time it is surprising because of the way they did it with the sign,” said criminologist José Raúl Cepeda.
Criminologist Joel Villa also explained that drug trafficking organizations usually operate similarly to stores and prefer no safety problems, violence, or officers patrolling in their areas becauses people look for other places to buy drugs.
Gang wars, he explained, happen when there are attempts to take over the market dominated by other gangs or when disputes arise between different gangs and there are no legitimate ways, such as a judicial process, to resolve those differences.
“This case, however, does not seem to be a planned incident,” Villa explained. “It seems that the individual (the carjacker) felt cornered and tried a very violent escape,” said the criminologist who added these incidents happen around the world in areas where criminal organizations settle, such as many neighborhoods in Puerto Rico.
To avoid or minimize this type of incidents, he said, one must address the circumstances that directly or indirectly contribute to the existence of criminal organizations, such as the criminalization of drugs, the lack of effective programs to rehabilitate addicts, social inequality that creates poverty enclaves where people see no other options than smuggling and drug dealing.
Governor Pierluisi somehow agreed with some of these comments. Yesterday, during a vaccination event at the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón, he said that this is a complex issue affected by economic inequality, deficiencies in the education system, and the unsustainable living conditions of many Puerto Ricans.
“Part of the solution is not short term, (but) medium and long term. Improving our education system, ensuring that everyone in Puerto Rico has opportunities to move forward, that there is no extreme poverty in Puerto Rico, among other things,” he said.
However, in the short term, he said, we must increase the number of police officers and review the strategies of preventive patrolling, among other issues.
Police in mourning
According to psychologist José Cangiano, these events can be highly stressful and generate anxiety especially among Puerto Rico Police officers who are daily exposed to scenarios where their lives may be threatened.
“Many police officers must be going through a process of loss with feelings of anger, denial until finally reaching acceptance. I understand that this is a time for these police officers, especially those in the Carolina area, to come together so that they can share, express how they feel, channel those feelings, and receive support so that they can face their work again. You have to remember that this is a profession where they are exposed to any kind of attack at any time and they often don’t know where that attack is going to come from,” said Cangiano.
“The first thing you feel is outrage and anger. It’s natural to feel that way. That is why it is necessary to train police officers to work calmly and quietly and avoid being carried away by the desire to find who was responsible. A police officer must follow the rule of law and the criminal prosecution process and never take justice into their own hands,” admitted Diego Figueroa, of the United Front of Organized Police.
When asked about the issue, the island´s Public Safety Secretary said that families and police officers will have psychology, social work, and chaplaincy programs available.
However, these resources are often not used because some police officers fear that a sign of emotional or mental instability could leave them out of the Police.
“They are supposed to receive psychological assistance, but remember that a police officer would be stigmatized for receiving psychological help. They said he was crazy or a coward. This is traumatic. The situation is that in the Police if you feel stressed or anxious and you say so, the first thing they do is disarm to avoid lawsuits and things like that. That’s why police officers are more willing to receive help collectively than individually,” said Figueroa.
This, however, can affect the officers´ mental health, said Cangiano, since if they do not express their emotions, the sadness the moment brings can lead to depression or other disorders.