El Paso -- El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles on Wednesday took odds with an explanation by Mexican authorities that the Aztecas gang killed one of his detention officers in Juárez for allegedly mistreating gang members while they were in jail.
Other U.S. law enforcement experts also questioned the explanation, the first time Mexican officials offered a motive for the March 13 slayings of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate.
The experts also said they feared that the case may become mired in politics between the U.S. and Mexico.
A former El Paso Barrio Azteca member, Ricardo "Chino" Valles de la Rosa, 45, is accused in Mexico of acting as a lookout for other gang members who carried out the attack on detention officer Arthur Redelfs because he allegedly mistreated gang members.
Wiles disputed that theory.
Redelfs "was a model officer in good standing with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office," Wiles said. "He received several commendations and letters of recognition throughout his 10-year career. Any statement that (Redelfs) may have 'mistreated' anyone is without merit given his record of performance. Records of this office contain no information that he ever was complained upon for mishandling or mistreating an inmate."
Wiles said he believes the FBI, which is helping Mexican authorities in the investigation of the slayings, will make its findings known to the public once it has completed the investigation. When asked about the case, the FBI's El Paso office deferred to the U.S. State Department and Mexican authorities.
The FBI's investigation is limited by the fact that the crimes occurred in Mexico.
Redelfs and his wife, Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, who was four months pregnant and who worked at the U.S. Consulate, were gunned down not far from Juárez's city hall. They had been at a children's party sponsored by the U.S. Consulate. Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, and his wife, Hilda Antillon, also attended the party.
The Redelfs and Salcido were killed in separate shooting attacks after leaving the party within minutes of each other. Redelfs and Salcido both had small white SUVs.
Mexican officials said Antillon, who was in another vehicle following her husband's SUV, saw the shooting of her husband and the wounding of their two children.
Mexican authorities said Valles told them that a gang leader ordered him to help locate Arthur Redelfs whenever the detention officer was in Juárez.
Valles allegedly said he notified the gang about Redelfs' whereabouts, followed his vehicle briefly, and left before the gunmen starting shooting.
Valles, who joined the Aztecas gang of Juárez in 2007, also told officials Salcido was killed because the gunmen did not know which white vehicle Arthur Redelfs was in.
That explanation by Mexican authorities, which was published Wednesday in the El Paso Times, was not fully accepted.
"Notwithstanding the article published in today's El Paso Times, it is our understanding from our counterparts in the FBI there is no evidence to support the theory that any of the three victims were specifically targeted," Wiles said in a prepared statement. "Although a former Barrio Azteca gang member by the name of Ricardo Valles de la Rosa has stated otherwise, it must be remembered that he is a career criminal whose credibility may be suspect."
Larry Nance, a friend of the Redelfs family, and Phil Jordan, former director of the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center, or EPIC, said the theory that Mexican officials said Valles offered doesn't make sense.
"It's baloney. The problem is that in many cases, the Mexican police tend to torture suspects, and this hurts their credibility," said Nance, who also worked for EPIC and investigated drug and organized crime cases. "If they don't torture them, then they threaten their families.
"The theory doesn't work for me. However, this is one way for the case to become a U.S. matter instead of an issue for the Mexican government. The one thing in common is that both these ladies worked at the consulate."
Jordan said the theory that a gang killed Redelfs out of retaliation is full of holes. He said he also fears that binational politics could dictate the final outcome of the case.
"We may be allowing what is possibly a forced confession that fits the politics in order to whitewash what was really behind the murders," said Jordan, a law enforcement consultant.
He said the slayings of the three made him think of the murder of DEA undercover agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985.
"This nearly happened with the Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena case, when the State Department tried to say back then that Kiki's death was the cost of the drug war," he said.
Jordan said the director of the DEA when Camarena was found dead in Mexico went against the State Department and continued to investigate leads that pointed to Mexican officials.