Mexican prosecutors formally presented homicide charges Monday against four soldiers implicated in the Feb. 26 shooting deaths of five men in the border city of Nuevo Laredo.
The killings in the cartel-dominated city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, caused outrage because the occupants of the vehicle the army fired on were apparently not armed.
The civilian court system said the four soldiers will be held in pre-trial detention at an army base in Mexico City that houses a military prison. They also face attempted homicide charges, because a sixth man was wounded.
The four had said they heard a loud bang and opened fire on what they claimed was a fleeing vehicle.
Mexico has a separate military court system, but soldiers must be tried in civilian courts for offenses that involve non-military victims.
The court will hold an initial hearing on the charges on April 12.
In March, Mexico’s governmental human rights agency called the shooting unjustified.
The commission took the unusual step of issuing a report stating that four of the 21 soldiers on patrol that morning opened fire. The report claimed those four soldiers fired a total of 117 shots at the pickup, with three soldiers saying they opened fire to support the first soldier who started shooting.
Soldiers in four patrol vehicles had followed the pickup in the pre-dawn hours based on just a “suspicion,” and did not follow proper procedure in engaging the vehicle, according to the report.
“Without giving verbal orders (to pull over), one soldier opened fire into the back of the private vehicle, and three other soldiers did the same to support the first one,” according to the report.
The Defense Department earlier said the soldiers heard gunshots and approached a pickup with no license plates and no lights in the pre-dawn hours.
“Upon seeing the army troops, they (the occupants) accelerated in a brusque and evasive way,” according to the statement.
The soldiers said the speeding pickup then crashed into a parked vehicle. Soldiers said that when they heard the crash, they opened fire. The army did not say whether they thought the bang was a gunshot.
There was no indication in crime scene reports of any weapons found in the vehicle after the shootings and the human rights commission said there was no evidence of any shots fired at the army patrol.
Nuevo Laredo is dominated by the violent Northeast drug cartel, an offshoot of the old Zetas cartel. Soldiers and marines have frequently come under fire from heavily armed cartel gunmen in Nuevo Laredo.
The city has also been the scene of human rights violations by the military in the past.
In 2021, Mexico’s navy turned 30 marines over to civilian prosecutors to face justice in the cases of people who disappeared during anti-crime operations in Nuevo Laredo in 2014. Marines were accused of rounding up supposed suspects, some of whom were not heard from again. Through 2018, dozens of people disappeared in Nuevo Laredo.