MEXICO CITY (AP) — A woman who returned to Mexico from Seattle to lead a community police force was freed from prison on Friday after courts threw out charges of homicide and kidnapping.
The case of Nestora Salgado has become a rallying point for activists who say the vigilante-like community groups that have sprung up across rural Mexico are cracking down on crimes ignored or fostered by corrupt government police forces.
"My only crime was defending the poor and the voiceless," she said after her release. Accompanied by relatives and supporters Salgado waved what appeared to be an air-rifle and said "If needed we will even use this, but we won't allow ourselves to be walked over."
Salgado donned a green t-shirt with the symbol of her community police force in the town of Olinala, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Mexico City. It's in Guerrero state, one of the most violent regions off Mexico.
Salgado, who has dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship, returned to Mexico in 2004 and joined one of the community police forces which, while legal, have often had a troubled relationship with state and federal authorities.
She said at a news conference after her release that she planned to return to the United States for medical treatment, but would eventually return to Olinala to continue with her activism.
She said she planned a new campaign to win the release of other imprisoned vigilante leaders and people she described as "political prisoners."
She was arrested in August 2013 after people who had been detained by the force filed a complaint of kidnapping. A federal judge dismissed those charges, but related state charges had kept her behind bars.
Salgado was cleared of remaining charges Thursday.
"This has been the result of the effort of so many people working for Nestora, both in the U.S. and Mexico," said Thomas Antkowiak, who directs the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University School of Law. "We're completely overjoyed that the family will be reunited and Nestora will come home."