Cuenca prosecutors are rejecting a claim by prison administrators that the death of six inmates last week at the Turi correctional facility was a mass suicide. “Given the fact that the victims were in different areas of the prison and unable to communicate with each other we find the suicide explanation extremely unlikely, even a little fantastic.” says chief Azuay prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso.
The preliminary investigation indicates that the rope marks on the necks of the dead inmates were not consistent with suicide, Amoroso says. “We are handling these as murder cases and believe that the gangs operating inside the prison are responsible.”
In addition to the six deaths, the prosecutor’s office and Azuay governor Xavier Martínez are investigating how Turi inmates managed to flood a large prison courtyard to create a swimming pool during Carnaval weekend. A video posted Tuesday on social media shows dozens of prisoners swimming and diving in the make-shift pool.
Although Martínez says the images appear to be from Turi, he is awaiting confirmation from experts that the video was not manipulated. “If this is real, it shows an alarming failure of management at the prison,” he said.
In one social media post, an unnamed prison employee confirmed that the video was in fact recorded at Turi. He said that inmates blocked the courtyard drains and turned on faucets to fill the enclosure with water to a depth of one meter. “This was done without the authorization of the wardens and when it was discovered, the water was turned off to other patios so it could not happen again,” the man wrote.
Speaking anonymously in a WhatsApp post, a man claiming to work in the prosecutor’s office wrote, “This is incredible! Are the animals running the zoo?”
Amoroso says one of the difficulties he faces investigating the alleged murders is the lack of video evidence. “The video surveillance system cameras were destroyed in previous disturbances at the prison and were not replaced, which makes our work much more difficult.”
Cuenca city officials, including Mayor Pedro Palacios, have protested to the government that the situation at Turi poses a safety risk to Cuenca. In addition to possible mismanagement, they say that dozens of family members and friends of prisoners should not be allowed to camp on prison property.