Three Buenos Aires City police officers were sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday for the 2021 killing of 17-year-old teenager Lucas González in Barracas.
Gabriel Alejandro Isassi, Fabián Andrés López and Juan José Nieva were all found guilty of aggravated homicide after a four-month trial involving more than 50 witnesses. The accused were also convicted of the attempted homicide of the deceased’s three friends.
Five other police officers were found guilty of attempting to cover up the crime, one of tampering with the evidence and five others were acquitted.
González, a 17-year-old footballer who played in Barracas Central’s youth team, died on November 18, 2021 from injuries sustained when he was shot twice in the head at close range by on-duty police officers.
The previous evening the youngster and three friends were on their way back home from a training session in Barracas, driving in a Volkswagen Suran towards Buenos Aires Province when their vehicle was intercepted by police.
Spooked by the attention of the policemen, who were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves as police officers, the group began taking evasive methods, with the officers then opening fire.
A brief chase ensued for around four blocks before Lucas was twice in the head. It is not known which of the cops fired the fatal shot killing the teenager.
The 17-year-old later fell into a coma and later died at a hospital in Florencio Varela.
González’s friends were handcuffed and taken into custody after the incident. They were mistreated and tortured by the officers who pressed them for information, before being released the next day.
"This is a historic sentence for Argentina, so that there will never again be cases like Lucas González. We have managed to ensure that the victims and their parents are considered victims of institutional violence. It is historic because we have never before heard convictions for institutional violence due to racial hatred," plaintiff lawyer Gregorio Dalbón told the press after the verdict.
Handing the officers the maximum sentence possible under law, Judges Ana Dieta de Herrero, Daniel Navarro and Marcelo Bartumeu Romero of the 25th Criminal Court of Buenos Aires deplored the actions of the serving officers.
The magistrates said the homicide was aggravated by four factors, including the use of a firearm, racial hatred and because of the officers’ positions as serving members of the City Police force.
The full grounds for the ruling were not released and will be published on August 25, said the judges.
The officers initially denied wrongdoing and argued that they made a “mistake” in assuming that González was travelling in a car while committing a crime. The court rejected that version of events, as well as additional claims that the officers had come under attack from the victims.
Some of the defendants were also accused of tampering with the evidence. During the investigation, the court heard claims that the officers had planted a fake gun in the vehicle’s boot.
Eleven other defendants were also in the dock on Tuesday. Police officers Roberto Orlando Inca, Juan Horacio Romero, Fabián Alberto Du Santos and Rodolfo Alejando Ozán were all sentenced to six years imprisonment and disqualification from public office for 10 years for their role in attempting to cover up the crime.
Héctor Claudio Cuevas was handed four years imprisonment and disqualification for 10 years for concealing distorting the evidence, while Sebastián Jorge Baidón – found guilty of torturing Lucas’ friends after the killing – was sentenced to eight years jail time and an eight-year ban from holding public office.
The judges also ordered an investigation into claims that the chief and deputy chief of the City Police Force be questioned over allegations they pressured at least one of the accused not to provide witness testimony.
Ramón Jesús Chocobar, Daniel Alberto Santana, Jonathan Alexis Martínez, Ángel Darío Arévalos and Daniel Rubén Espinosa were all cleared of the charges against them. They were to be released immediately.
A number of the accused asked to address the court before the verdict to apologise to the victim’s family. Isassi, López and Nieva declined to comment.
‘May God forgive them’
A large group of friends and well-wishers gathered outside the court prior to the day’s hearing to show their support for the victim’s family.
González’s mother, Cintia López, expressed anger that the police officers had not shown remorse for their son’s death.
“For my part, I will not forgive them. May God forgive them,” she told reporters outside the court.
Lucas’ father, Héctor González, highlighted that case’s racial component: "They stigmatised him, they discriminated against him, they looked twice because of their appearance.”
“They saw him, they chose him, they waited for him, they shot him, they tortured him and they burnt him with cigarettes," added the father.