“MX” and “HEARST” for Borderland Beat

Visitors are cleared to leave the CERESO No. 3 in Juárez more than seven hours after a prison break on Sunday, Jan. 1, left 13 injured and 17 dead. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

17 people were killed and 25 inmates escaped from the Social Readaptation Center (CERESO) No. 3 in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, across the US-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas, following a large riot on New Year’s Day.

Investigators say that among the dead were ten prison guards and seven inmates. They confirmed that one high-ranking gang members from Los Mexicles escaped: Ernesto Alfredo Piñón De la Cruz AKA “El Neto”, an eye patch-wearing gang boss who was imprisoned since 2010 and had a 244-year sentence for kidnapping and murder.

The prison warden Alejandro Alvarado Tellez and other staff members were fired and are now under investigation after authorities discovered that several gang members in prison had VIP cells where they held parties. Inside those cells they found liquor, drugs, weapons, and other contraband.

Last August, Alvarado Tellez was hired to replace the previous warden after a prison riot left three inmates dead and sparked a wave of attacks throughout Ciudad Juarez in a day known as “Black Thursday“.

Authorities in Juárez remained on edge for over 48 hours after a series of gunfights broke out throughout the city while they searched for the 25 escapees. The US Consulate in Juarez cancelled all appointments on Tuesday and instructed their staff to stay at home due to the shootouts.

Two Chihuahua state police officers and five gangsters were killed in a confrontation Monday night as violence spread through the city.

VIP Cells

When the Mexican military retook control of the prison, they found at least 10 VIP cells nicely decorated with televisions and other comforts. One of the cells owned by El Neto had a safe with approximately 1.7 million pesos (approximately US$88,000).

Authorities also found a wealth of contraband, including 84 cellphones, 285 bags of crystal methamphetamine (with a total of nearly 9 pounds of crystal meth), along with hundreds of packets of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and eight fentanyl pills.

Contraband found in the VIP cells (image: Diario de Juarez)

This revelation caused more uproar across the Mexican media and questions have surfaced on how the Juarez prison was run and who was actually in charge.

A video released by El Diario de Juárez showed El Neto and other inmates hosting a party inside the prison. They had booze and even hired a music band to play. Reportedly, they were celebrating the Dia Mexicle (Mexicle Day). El Neto was the only one wearing civilian clothes; the rest of the inmates were in prison garments.

The Context You Need on The Groups in Juarez

Juárez has two large cartel forces at war within it: the Sinaloa Cartel and La Linea. It’s worth noting that Linea has an alliance with the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), according to the state’s Secretary of Security, and because of this alliance the CJNG appears to maintain a very hands off approach when it comes to the state of Chihuahua.

Now within Juárez, much like within Tijuana, there are a number of street gangs and smaller cells of hitmen who work under one of the large cartel forces.

These smaller entities will sometimes “switch sides” or rather, change which large cartel force they work under. The smaller entities can sometimes divide into warring factions within themselves or fight against other street gangs that work for the same larger cartel force as they do who are ostensibly their allies.

District Attorney Manuel Carrasco Chacón described it, saying “The situation of groups and gangs in the city is not very legible, so to speak. Years ago it was very marked, however, we can see that these groups have been deserting and many people are taking advantage of the situation. A river in turmoil is the fisherman’s gain’, but we continue to see the same people.”

The District Attorney named the following four smaller entities as the most important and relevant within Juárez:

        Los Mexicles – works under the Sinaloa Cartel, divided

        Artistas Asesinos – works under the Sinaloa Cartel

        Los Aztecas  – works under La Línea

        La Nueva Empresa  – works under La Línea

He went on to say that both Los Mexicles and Artistas Asesinos are currently believed to be working under the Sinaloa Cartel, while La Nueva Empresa and Aztecas work under La Línea.

10 Prison Guards Killed

The Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office (FGE) lamented the death of the 10 prison guards killed in the attack. They confirmed that the guards had their weapons taken away before they were “executed” by cartel members. 

Their names were Manuel Rodríguez Soria, Carlos Santiago Padilla Silva, Abel Juárez Hernández, Víctor Hugo Rivera Meráz, Carlos Ernesto Salinas Bañuelos, José Ausencio Pérez Sifuentes, Jaime Arciniega Alvarado, Guadalupe Gámez Galán, Domingo Trébol Serrano and Edgar Omar Hernández García.

Sources: Diario de Juarez (full coverage); El Paso Times; Borderland Beat archives

Relevant BB stories: El Neto Escape; Escapees Details (by “Mica”)