19 January 2011
All the signs point to a tear gas canister being the source of the fire in a Panamanian juvenile detention center that has led to the deaths of four youths and left three fighting for their lives.
Experts from the Fire Department and the Forensic Explosives Unit and Fire from the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences (Imelcf) have determined that a “heat source” caused the fire in cell 6 of the Juvenile Compliance Center in Tocumen.
“According to the observed features can be some kind of tear gas grenade,” says the report signed by the Imelcf.
La Prensa reported that one of the coroners said: : “I can not say what caused that caused the fire, but I can say that a tear gas grenade generates enough heat to ignite any flammable solid material, such as mattresses and other material found in cell No. 6 at the Tocumen Compliance Center. ”
Experts at Imelcf and the Fire Department ruled out a power failure as the cause of the fire.
At the back of the burned cell firefighters found the “pin” or “safety pin” of a tear gas canister, and “soot” on the wall. At the entrance of the they found two used and under a desk part of a tear gas bomb, with the inscription “Triple CS Chase.”
According to initial investigations Luis Ortega, head of the Police Zone of Tocumen, ordered the police officers to pepper spray the cell during a riot and leave the young boys in detention. The action would have been be authorized by the director of the Center, Iris Cedeno.
But, the plan was changed: and instead of pepper spray, tear gas was used.
Homicide and attempted homicide charges have been filed against two police officers who have invokled Article 25 of the Constitution which exempts them from testifying against themselves.
According to Carlos Herrera, a lawyer for the families of the victims, two officers were arrested but he also called for the charges against the head of center’s perimeter security, Ernesto Blake “He [Blake] was the one who shouted at the children ‘mueranse’ [die].)
José Manuel Faúndes, another lawyer for the families affected, said that juvenile detainees “burned alive”, described it as “sadistic” and performed with “premeditation”
The Human Rights Commission, based in Washington DC has deplored the deaths of the four teenagers an said it was concerned about reports that the security officers of the Center “did not act with due diligence to safeguard the lives of the young people.” and called on the Panamanian government to “take the necessary steps to properly investigate these incidents and prevent their repetition. ”
“The Commission said the state is in a special position of guarantor against the rights of persons deprived of liberty.” .