Tomás Zerón de Lucio, the head of Mexico’s Criminal Investigations Agency, turned in his resignation to the prosecutor general’s office on Sept. 14—amid an internal inquiry into his handling of the case of 43 college students who disappeared nearly two years ago.
The undergraduate students, from Ayotzinapa town in Guerrero state, are said to have been abducted by corrupt local police and turned over to a murderous narco-gang—but surviving kin and their supporters increasingly charge Mexico’s government with a cover-up in the case.
The Ayotzinapa case has been the subject of an angry protest campaign. It is increasingly believed that the Guerreros Unidos narco-gang officially blamed in the case are taking the hit for federal police involvement in the abductions. Zerón’s resignation comes days ahead of the two-year anniversary of the mass disappearance on Sept. 26.
Zerón had been under growing pressure since April, when a panel of foreign human rights and legal experts brought in to review the case harshly criticized the investigation in its final report, raising doubts about the integrity of Mexico’s judicial system. Zerón was singled out for criticism in the panel’s final report.
As the New York Times notes, the panel examined events that took place on Oct. 28 and 29, 2014, in a canyon of the Río San Juan near Cocula village, where the government said the students’ burnt remains had been dumped in plastic garbage bags. At their press conference, the panelists displayed video clips of Zerón accompanying a detained suspect to the scene on Oct. 28—the day before the garbage bags were allegedly recovered from the canyon. These were full of incinerated bones, including a fragment that provided the only DNA identification of one of the missing students. Yet none of that day’s investigative activities were recorded in the case file, the panelists charged—raising the possibility that investigators had manipulated or planted evidence.
The Prosecutor General‘s office opened the internal affairs inquiry in response to the charges. Zerón remained at his post but was reportedly iced from the Ayotzinapa case.
A few weeks ago, the families of missing students, who had been meeting regularly with Prosecutor General Arely Gómez and her staff, suspended those meetings in protest of the government’s refusal to fire Zerón.
Zerón, we may be assured, has landed on his feet. La Jornada newspaper reports that immediately upon his resignation, President Enrique Peña Nieto appointed him to a seat on Mexico’s National Security Council.