Colombian journalist dies from injuries suffered while in police custody

After a week in intensive care, Colombian journalist Guillermo Quiroz died on Nov. 27, reported the newspaper El Universal. Quiroz suffered mutiple injuries after falling from a National Police truck in the northern city of San Pedro, Sucre, according to the newspaper.

The incient occured on Nov. 20, when the 31 year-old journalist was covering a protest in San Pedro against the oil company Pacific Rubiales for the local news outlet Notisabana, reported the magazine Semana. According to witnesses, police stopped him for allegedly driving his motorcycle without proper documentation, added the publication.

Supposedly, Quiroz argued with the police and was arrested as a preventative measure. He climbed on to the truck where his motorcycle was being kept when, for reasons still under investigation, the journalist fell to the ground and suffered fractures in his skull and body, and showed signs of bruising.

Until he lost consciousness, Quiroz denied the police version of events that claimed he threw himself off the vehicle to avoid being taken to the police station, according to the newspaper El Universal. The journalist said in his last interview that he had been attacked physcially and verbally and was thrown from the moving vehicle during his struggle with the officers.

The death of the reporter caused riots in San Pedro, Quiroz's hometown, which police responded to with tear gas and water cannons. Demonstrators threw stones, sticks and used slingshots. Clashes left four police officers and 50 civilians injured, reported the newspaper El Espectador. Authorities exhausted the town's water supply using the water cannons to quell the protest, added the newspaper.

The death of the reporter also attracted attention from journalist organizations. The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP in Spanish) called on the National Police and the Attorney General to investigate and clarify the circumstances of the death. FLIP noted that weeks before the incident the journalist claimed he had received threats after publishing a report and had confrontations with the police. The broadcaster Caracol reported the same information.

The Colombian Federation of Journalists asked its members to organize demonstrations across the country to demand the authorities investigate the case. The organization went on to remind the National Police of its "mutual respect" agreement with journalists and the report investigating uniformed officers' involvement in attacks on journalists.

At this time, the three police officers possibily involved in the event were put on temporary leave, according to brigadier general Santiago Parra, who arrived in Sucre to overseeing the investigation, reported the newspaper El Tiempo.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.