A group of supporters from Modesto and Turlock headed to the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento on Wednesday to present a formal request for the release of a doctor arrested by authorities in Michoacán.
Manuel Mireles, 55, who lived in Modesto for 10 years before returning to his home state, was arrested near Lazaro Cardenas on June 27 and later taken to a prison in Hermosillo. He faces charges of possession of drugs and illegal weapons.
Mireles has gained fame in Mexico and elsewhere as the founder of an armed vigilante group trying to keep gangsters out of the small city of Tepalcatepec.
He’s a controversial figure, with supporters calling him a human rights activist and federal authorities, who took over security functions in Michoacán in January, trying to disarm him and other vigilantes.
Local supporters believe authorities arrested Mireles because he refused to stop speaking out about human rights.
Alberto Godinez of Turlock, who is taking part in the effort to free Mireles, said the group’s goal in taking the letter to the Mexican Consulate was “to let them know that the world is watching.”
Godinez said authorities shaved Mireles’ head, considered to be a demeaning act. Mireles’ attorney has shaved her head in solidarity as she works to free him.
“The desire of Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles to educate his fellow citizens to achieve their human rights as citizens, rapidly escalated to a series of events which (ended) in his incarceration,” Godinez wrote in a news release.
Since taking the spotlight last year, Mireles has suffered a series of travails. His home life is a wreck, and his 27-year marriage seemingly over. He’s left his wife for a teenage beauty queen who’s younger than any of his children, though her exact age is in dispute.
His health has faltered from serious injuries when his small plane went down Jan. 4. Mireles said at the time that he believed his plane was shot down from the ground.
He’s also squabbling with some of his fellow vigilante leaders. Death threats are routine, and he moves around in an armored car. A security czar to President Enrique Peña Nieto suggests Mireles may have been involved in the killings of five men.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra and McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Tim Johnson contributed to this report.