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US priest’s home raided by police on St Patrick’s Day in Mexico

Mexican police officers on patrol (AFP/Getty)

An American priest and prison chaplain in northern Mexico says his home, which doubles as a halfway house, was raided in the early hours of St Patrick’s Day as police came to arrest one of the three men who live with him.

Fr Robert Coogan, a New York native, also alleges that the police tried to plant drugs during the raid, part of a pattern of harassment against the former prisoners whom he helps transition from spending time behind bars to leading productive lives.

“Since we opened the house, there has been harassment,” said Fr Coogan, who works in Saltillo, about 190 miles from the Texas border. He said if there is a problem in the neighbourhood, people blame house residents.

One longtime resident, Roger Zuniga — whom Fr Coogan considers “my right-hand man” — was taken away at around 1am on March 17 and subsequently put in prison, where he stayed for a little more than 24 hours. Local media have suggested the people raiding the home were organised crime members using weapons and uniforms similar to those of the state police, an explanation Fr Coogan finds improbable.

“It had to be the police that took Roger. How else did they put him in prison?” asked Fr Coogan, who leads the prison ministry for the Diocese of Saltillo and runs the halfway house from his home in a neighborhood near the Saltillo prison.

In a statement, the diocese said: “We expect that these acts are investigated and cleared up and we demand that (the authorities) work to safeguard and protect the persons that inhabit this city since, in recent months, we have been witnesses and victims of acts of violence.”

Fr Coogan started the halfway house five years ago for ex-inmates “who don’t have anywhere to go and don’t have the money to get home.” He says it often comes under scrutiny and stigma since “people know that ex-cons live here.”

Three men live in the home, including one who overdosed and became incapacitated and requires 24-hour attention. Fr Coogan rescued him from a charity hospital.