PANAMA CITY — Seven policemen who watched five teenagers burn to death in a juvenile detention center in Panama after firing teargas into their cell have been sentenced to prison in verdicts welcomed Tuesday by relatives of the victims.
The female director of the facility and a civilian guard were also ordered incarcerated over the deaths, which occurred in Panama City on Jan. 9, 2011.
“This was a terrible case because those there to guard and guarantee the detainees’ rights yelled ‘Die!’ at the minors as they were burning and pleading for help,” Minister of Government Milton Henríquez, who is charge of the country’s police forces, told Panamanian television.
Five detainees aged 15 to 17 died when the officers called to put down a protest in the juvenile center fired tear gas into their locked cell, causing a fire, and then prevented firemen from extinguishing the flames.
Another two teenagers in the cell survived but with burns over 90 percent of their bodies.
In verdicts made public Monday, three of the officers, including a local deputy commissioner, and the center’s director were each sentenced to 46 years in prison.
The two officers who fired the two teargas grenades were given 40-year terms.
Another two officers and the guard were given six-year sentences.
“This conviction won’t bring back my son. But the abuse has been recognized and this will be an example to make sure it never happens again,” Julia Mosquera, mother of one of the victims, told AFP by telephone.
She said her son had been in the center for six months and was to have been freed in just 10 days when he was killed.
The court verdict found the officers at the juvenile center had fired teargas on the detainees “without considering” that it would start a fire.