An investigation has been opened in Tucumán Province amid reports that a man died from suffocation after having been aggressively detained by police officers.
Walter Ceferino Nadal, 43, died from suffocation, an autopsy confirmed, after being reportedly pinned to the ground by police officers. Passersby who witnessed the incident said at least one police officer applied his knee to the victim's neck.
The incident, which took place in the provincial capital last Wednesday at around noon, was compared in local reports to the killing of black US citizen George Floyd, whose death widespread protests about race and discrimination in the United States. Dozens of witnesses made the comparison in comments to local reporters, with some claiming that the officers had beaten Ceferino Nadal during his arrest.
At least two videos have emerged of the incident, in which the victim is seen being restrained aggressively by at least four uniformed officers and two others, assumed to be officers in civilian clothing.
Ceferino Nadal, 43, was detained for an alleged robbery, although no evidence of that claim has come to light as yet.
According to witness accounts cited in local press, he asked for help on several occasions while being restrained.
The police report for incident initially claimed that Ceferino Nadal had died as a consequence of a heart attack while trying to escape being restrained.
An autopsy later confirmed that the cause of death was suffocation and that the man had suffered neck injuries during the incident.
According to quotes provided by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, one witness said that the victim was initially restrained by two officers.
"One of them had his knee at the nape of the neck. The man who was on the floor told him, 'I am short of breath, I am short of breath,' but they did not release him," said a man identified as Ricardo.
"Apparently the policemen seemed not to believe him. In a moment, the man was silent and turned white. That was when the troops were scared and asked for help. The 107 motorcycles arrived, they revived him and they just took him away in an ambulance.," the man told local news outlet La Gaceta.
Ceferino Nadal had a previous conviction for robbery, though family members claimed that he had been the victim of "police persecution" and "mistreatment" by the police officers from the same police station during a previous incident in February when he was detained.
On February 17 of this year, the victim's wife made a formal complaint that her husband had been beaten at Police Station No. 1 in San Miguel de Tucumán.
The police officers who participated in the arrest have been identified and will testify before investigators in the coming days, AFP reported.
Tucumán Security Minister Claudio Maley reported that Nadal had a history with crime and that he served an eight-year prison sentence and had addiction problems. He said it was essential to determine how events occurred and vowed to "accompany any decision that justice takes on people who do not share the values of the police institution."
This is the second major allegation of police brutality in recent weeks against officers of the Tucumán Police.
On My 15, during a local festival, rural worker Luis Espinoza went missing. His body was discovered one week later, having been thrown into a ravine. At least eight police officers and one civilian have been arrested and remanded in custody, charged with the "illegitimate deprivation of liberty followed by death and forced disappearance of a person."
The regional branch of the United Nations human rights agency is now involved in the Espinoza investigation.