Venezuelan experts probe police shooting

Associated Press
Chilean Consul in Venezuela, Fernando Berendique, right front, helps to carry the coffin with the remains of his 19-year-old daughter Karen to a waiting hearse, in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Saturday March 17, 2012.  Berendique said his daughter was shot early Saturday, while riding in a vehicle with her brother and another young man, when the trio ignored a command to stop by police at a checkpoint, fearing the officers might be robbers. The Prosecutor General's Office says in a statement that 11 police officers are under investigation for their roles in the death. Berendique's daughter is reported to have died after suffering three bullet wounds. (AP Photo/Fabiola Portillo)
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Chilean Consul in Venezuela, Fernando Berendique, right front, helps to carry the coffin with the remains of his 19-year-old daughter Karen to a waiting hearse, in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Saturday March 17, 2012. Berendique said his daughter was shot early Saturday, while riding in a vehicle with her brother and another young man, when the trio ignored a command to stop by police at a checkpoint, fearing the officers might be robbers. The Prosecutor General's Office says in a statement that 11 police officers are under investigation for their roles in the death. Berendique's daughter is reported to have died after suffering three bullet wounds. (AP Photo/Fabiola Portillo)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan prosecutors have appointed a group of experts to assist in an investigation into the killing of a Chilean diplomat's 19-year-old daughter by police.

The commission includes nine experts with specialties in ballistics analysis and other techniques, the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement on Monday.

Karen Berendique died after being shot by police on Friday night at an unmarked checkpoint in the western city of Maracaibo, the authorities said.

Her father, Chilean honorary consul Fernando Berendique, called for better police training on Monday. He told the Venezuelan radio station Union Radio that at 9 p.m. on Friday, his son left home together with his daughter to drive her to a party several blocks from their home.

Berendique said that when police ordered them to stop, his son thought the officers were robbers and instead backed up. Police opened fire, and Berendique's daughter was hit by three bullets, including one shot to the head, the authorities said.

After the shooting, the police behaved "very violently" as they ordered Karen's brother out of the sport-utility vehicle, Berendique said. "Fortunately the neighbors noticed the situation, and that was what saved my son's life," he said.

Twelve police officers have been detained and under investigation for their alleged roles.

President Hugo Chavez condemned the teenager's death.

"All the weight of the law has to fall on the police who killed the daughter of the Chilean consul," Chavez said in a phone call to state television.

"No police officer has a right to use weapons that way," Chavez said, according to state radio.

In Maracaibo, a group of young people protested Karen Berendique's killing, demanding the resignations of officials including Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami and the chief of the judicial police. Images on Venezuelan television showed the demonstrators raising hands painted red to protest the police shooting.

Opposition politician Tomas Guanipa accused Chavez's government of being responsible for a "crisis of anarchy, crime and insecurity." In a statement, Guanipa demanded that the authorities remove officers involved in crimes.

Marino Alvarado, who leads the Venezuelan human rights group Provea, said the country's security forces are contributing to crime "due to the quantity of criminal acts in which they're involved."

Provea said in its annual report last year that the country's security forces were responsible for 173 deaths during the past 12-month period, including seven victims of "excessive force," 15 victims of "indiscriminate use of force," and others who were executed, tortured or died due to other cruel treatment.

"In Venezuela, there's a police practice of arbitrary use of force, and that practice leads to these consequences," Alvarado said.

He urged the government to restructure the judicial police, a force known by its Spanish initials CICPC. Its officers in Maracaibo were the ones who opened fire and killed Berendique. Alvarado said that police force has also been implicated in many other killings.

The organization Venezuelan Violence Observatory, which tracks crime in the country, found in a poll last year that 91 percent of those questioned said they believe police are involved in crimes. The survey questioned 1,000 people nationwide and had an error margin of 5 percentage points.

Venezuelans regularly identify crime as the country's top problem in polls.

The Venezuelan government, which has not released detailed annual murder statistics in recent years, has said the murder rate in 2010 was 48 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest rates in Latin America.

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