Police admit errors in fatal club stampede

June 25, 2008 6:33:36 PM PDT
Police shoved terrified youths trying to leave the News Devine nightclub back into the face of a deadly stampede that killed a dozen people, including three officers and a 13-year-old girl, prosecutors said.The initial investigation suggests that bad conditions at the club, including overcrowding, and police errors caused the tragedy on Friday, Mexico City Prosecutor Rodolfo Felix Cardenas said.

The club's narrow entrance became a death trap as patrons were crushed and asphyxiated by the crowd, according to witness accounts. The emergency exit was locked.

"The young people shouted 'let us out, let us out,' but the police shouted 'hold on, hold on,' even as they said to each other 'push, push,"' said Felix Cardenas, quoting a witness. "The police not only tried to prevent the youths from leaving, it was evident they were trying to push them back inside. ... It created something like an accordion effect, which is what caused the deaths."

Felix Cardenas issued a list of about 20 separate errors committed by police during the raid for alleged drug and alcohol violations, ranging from a lack of coordination, planning and strategy to command errors. Seventeen police commanders have been suspended and were called in to testify in the case. The club's owner and an employee have been charged with corrupting minors because alcohol was sold at the club.

The owner may still face other charges for code violations.

Employees said alcohol was served at the club but not to minors.

The legal drinking age in Mexico City is 18.

Two videos of the raid provided by police and local officials showed a chaotic scene in which disorganized police officers dumped the bodies of fainting or dying youths on a sidewalk outside the club. Officers and others stepped around the bodies but did little to help them, beyond checking for pulses.

Felix Cardenas said charges in the case could include murder.

Police acknowledged on Tuesday that they made errors in the raid.

"Technical and operational errors, together with the circumstances at that moment and the characteristics of the site" led to the deaths, the police internal affairs office said.

Dozens of protesters in the working-class neighborhood of Nueva Atzacoalco gathered outside News Divine on Tuesday, chanting "killers! killers!" and tossing red paint at police guarding the site.

About 600 young people had packed into the club.