Aldo Alexander Peña, a transgender officer in El Salvador’s Metropolitan Agents Corps (CAM), spoke out this week about a brutal beating, arrest, and intimidation he allegedly experienced at the hands of National Civil Police (PNC) hours after San Salvador’s June 27 Sexual Diversity March.
That morning, as Peña told independent newspaper The Lighthouse, he had proudly marched in the pride parade with Generation Transgender Men, a Salvadoran advocacy group. He and his friends were especially excited this year because they’d learned the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled for nationwide marriage equality the day before, and they expected that might have some positive influence on LGBT rights in their own country.
Peña arrived at the parade costumed as a police officer, wearing his official CAM outfit with the insignias removed, but was not acting as an officer that day. If he had been, he reflected to the newspaper, he might not have become an alleged target of the PNC later that night.
Peña told The Lighthouse that several hours after the parade ended, he got into an altercation with a city bus driver who hadn’t stopped to pick up Peña’s friend Aida Sonia Perez as she was running to catch the bus. Peña says he yelled at the driver and then asked to get off the bus, but the man refused, instead driving to the nearest PNC substation. When the bus arrived several officers ordered everyone off the vehicle, Peña said.
What happened next left the trans activist with several broken ribs, a skull fracture, numerous bruises and cuts, mild brain swelling, and enough injury to his left eye socket that he was afraid he’d lose sight — so much damage to so many parts that he would simply be diagnosed as having “multiple trauma,” much like many of El Salvador’s car accident victims are, notes The Lighthouse. Yet the police and Peña have very different stories about how his injuries occurred.
The police report says Peña and Perez — who had continued to follow the bus until she reached the station — became aggressive with officers. PNC head Hugo Salinas told The Lighthouse that three officers were deployed to subdue the pair and that even several of the passengers who had remained to watch the altercation had helped to hold Peña down. The report says his face became bruised and lacerated when he fell to the sidewalk.
“Obviously, the officer didn’t hit [Peña] in the face. The police didn’t do that,” Salinas told the newspaper. “We have a legal framework for action, different levels of force. When a person can respond to verbal commands, there’s no need to do anything else. If he gets violent and has committed a crime, then the police use phsyical force in the technical ways that they’ve been taught.”
But Peña and Perez dispute Salinas’s account, saying that agent Luis Jesus Rivera Salgado did hit Peña in the face almost immediately and went on to use “excessive force” along with eight other officers, causing the serious facial trauma Peña exhibits in pictures he covertly released to the press through a friend. Peña told The Lighthouse that Salgado pinned him to the ground by sitting on his abdomen and pressing an arm against his neck, and then the other officers rushed over to begin beating him.
“Those guys hit and kicked me in the ribs, the head, everywhere,” Peña explained to the newspaper in Spanish. “They almost dragged Sonia [Perez] into the group.” Perez corroborates Peña’s account.