MEXICO CITY — It all began with confusion over a name, and it still isn't over for Aldo Christopher Granada Rivera. After eight months in a Mexican prison, he developed a facial tic and flinches at the sound of sirens.
Granada finally went free. But he's one of many victims of Mexican law-enforcement officials' practice of parading detainees in public "perp walks" and public news conferences, hoping to regain the trust of a citizenry besieged by organized crime.
Human rights officials say Mexican authorities have nabbed innocent people repeatedly and smeared them in front of television cameras to burnish their image as crime fighters. They demand an end to the practice.
"There's a problem with a lack of confidence in the judiciary," said Luis Gonzalez Placencia, the human rights ombudsman for the federal district of Mexico City. "It would improve if there were efficient police, and if prosecutors could win convictions."
But many authorities prefer a triumph in the court of public opinion over a victory in a court of law.
"They've settled on having a big arrest in the media rather than on winning a conviction," Gonzalez Placencia said.
With mounting regularity, security agents detain people they allege are drug lords, murderers or kidnappers, then call in reporters and photographers to display the detainees amid piles of weapons and ammunition, often sandwiched between ninja-looking hooded shock troops.
"It tips the scales of justice against a suspect before they even enter a courtroom," said Nik Steinberg, a Mexico researcher at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York.
Few people snared in the web of criminal justice may seem as unlikely as Granada, a 30-year-old chemical engineer who saw his photo — taken from his driver's license — on television on June 25, 2009, with the announcement that prosecutors considered him one of the capital's most-wanted criminals. He knew only that the charges were serious. "I didn't know whom I had supposedly killed," he said.
He went into hiding and stayed there for months while advocates tried to find out more. After the birth of a daughter, he no longer could bear staying away from his wife, Yuriria Campos, their son and the newborn. He came home.
On Nov. 16, 2009, a commando unit intercepted him as he rode his bicycle.
"They pulled me aboard one of their cars. They never let me see their faces. They said they knew who I was," Granada recalled. He was taken to the capital's North Prison and thrown into a small cellblock with more than 20 other detainees.
It turned out that police thought that someone with his name belonged to a gang that had kidnapped a law student, collected a ransom, then dumped the student's dead body.
The real culprit's name was Aldo Christopher Granada Gonzalez, slightly different but similar enough that police thought they could pass him off.
Seeking justice, rather than just a warm body on which to pin blame, the victim's father tracked the right man to Sinaloa state in Mexico's northwest. After the man's arrest, he, too, was thrown in North Prison.
The victim's father went before the judge to explain the mistaken identity.
"He told the judge I wasn't the right person," Granada said.