SANTIAGO – A former member of Chile’s militarized national police was found guilty of homicide on Thursday for the 2018 killing of a Mapuche man in a case that forced high-level resignations and brought renewed scrutiny of the Carabineros force.
The judge in the southern city of Angol convicted six other ex-Carabineros of putting pressure on witnesses and obstructing justice in their efforts to protect Carlos Alarcon, who fired the shot that killed Camilo Catrillanca.
Defense lawyer Cristian Inostroza, who advised Alarcon and his colleagues to lie about what happened, was likewise found guilty of obstruction.
More than 70 witnesses testified at the trial, which began in March and resumed in October after a suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28.
Catrillanca was fatally shot on Nov. 4, 2018, during an operation by Jungle Command, a special Carabineros unit deployed in the southern region of Araucania against Mapuche militants who have set fire to churches, vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments in a bid to reclaim lands lost during a late-19th-century “pacification” campaign against indigenous people.
The bullets struck Catrillanca as he was riding a tractor along with a 15-year-old boy.
The Carabineros initially said that Catrillanca was killed in the cross-fire as officers exchanged shots with gunmen who ambushed the cops.
But investigators with the Attorney General’s Office determined the police account was false and Alarcon ultimately admitted that he and his colleagues lied about the events at the urging of their lawyer.
“The evidence of the trial established that they conceived in advance a strategy to go give statements to the Attorney General’s Office and, definitely, provide false information to the investigation,” Judge Francisco Boero said in his verdict.
While one of the officers involved in the incident had a camera mounted on his helmet, the Carabineros denied having any video of the shooting until leaked footage was broadcast on television.
The video shows Alarcon shooting at Catrillanca with an assault rifle.
The controversy forced Hermes Soto to resign as commander of the Carabineros and brought calls for then-Interior Minister Andres Chadwick to step down for allegedly aiding the attempted cover-up.
Anger at Catrillanca’s murder derailed an initiative by right-wing President Sebastian Piñera to resolve the “Mapuche conflict” through a National Accord for Development and Peace in Araucania.
The Mapuches, who number around 650,000, are the largest indigenous group in Chile, a nation of some 17 million people. They live mainly in Araucania and greater Santiago.
The conflict in Araucania has claimed the lives of Mapuche activists, police and farmers, while dozens of indigenous people have been sent to prison, mainly for crimes against property.