Video: Texas sheriff to Mexico: We want a body

  1. Closed captioning of: Texas sheriff to Mexico: We want a body

    >>> there are new developments in the case of the american who was allegedly shot and killed by mexican pirates. authorities in texas have made a direct plea to a notorious plug cartel to return that man's body. janet shanlian has the latest.

    >> reporter: we're here at falcon lake where the search for david hartley 's body has been impacted, hampered by threats of an ambush by the drug cartels . in fact they had to suspend the search for a time yesterday. at the same time the sheriff in this county has reached out directly to the cartel insisting that there's going to be no penalty, no repercussion for the return of an american's body. this is the search on the mexican side of fall con lake for the body of david hardly. mexico says it has several boats in the water and as many as 60 officers working the case. a texas border sheriff is taking a different tack, calling on the drug cartel to return david home.

    >> we cannot let what happened in mexico , we cannot prosecute anybody for what happened in mexico , we just want a body. i did send word to the drug cartel in mexico , unofficially, i said, hey, work with us.

    >> tiffany hartley 's life jacket was stained with blood, stains she says she likely got when she tried to pull her husband on to her jet ski . she ultimately left him behind to safe her own life. the search in mexico was suspended for a time after reports of a possible ambush from the cartel.

    >> we have an american citizen who was gunned down on international waters .

    >> that riled texas governor rick perry who's been critical of mexico 's response.

    >> i'm not satisfied, when you call off a search the way they did this morning and give as the reason because the drug cartels are in control of that part of the state, something's not right.

    >> reporter: u.s. officials have taken tiffany hartley to a border crossing where she met with mention cxican authorities in charge of the search. and now for tiffany and everyone on this side of the border, there's little to do except watch, wait and hope that david is returned home. and tiffany hartley said she would consider taking a lie detector test if people continue to doubt her story. officials have not ask for one, at least not at this point.

    >>> it is 7:18 and now

Henry Cuellar, Sigi Gonzalez Jr.
Eric Gay  /  AP
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, right, and Zapata County Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez Jr., left, discuss the disappearance of David Hartley of Colorado. Hartley allegedly was shot by Mexican pirates on a lake that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border.
updated 10/8/2010 7:54:36 AM ET 2010-10-08T11:54:36

A search for a missing American tourist presumably shot and killed by Mexican pirates on a border lake has been thwarted by threats of an ambush from drug gangs, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said he has sent word to the Zetas that he wants the body returned and has no plans to prosecute.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar told reporters that Mexican authorities are doing everything they can to find David Hartley's body while trying to keep their own crews safe.

"When darkness was falling (Wednesday evening), they got word that there might be an ambush," Cuellar said. "People that are trying to do their job on the Mexican side are facing a risk, they're right inside the hornets' nest ... they had to suspend the search."

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Cuellar said the search resumed midmorning Thursday.

Tiffany Hartley said her husband, David, was shot to death by Mexican pirates chasing them on speedboats across Falcon Lake on Sept. 30 as they returned on Jet Skis from a trip to photograph a historic Mexican church. Neither his body nor the Jet Ski has been recovered. Texas officials have warned boaters and fisherman that pirates frequent the Mexican side of the lake, a 25-mile by 3-mile dammed section of the Rio Grande.

That part of Tamaulipas state is overrun by violence from a turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zeta drug gang, made up of former Mexican special forces soldiers, and both are battling the Mexican military.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, campaigning for re-election in Houston, said such threats were no excuse.

"I don't think we're doing enough. When you call off the search the way they did ... and give as the reason because the drug cartels are in control of that part of the state, something's not right," Perry said. "We do not need to let our border continue to deteriorate from the standpoint of having drug cartels telling whether or not we can go in and bring the body of an American citizen who was killed. That is irresponsible."

Sigi Gonzalez Jr.
Eric Gay  /  AP
Zapata County Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez Jr., at podium, with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and other officials Thursday at the Zapata County courthouse discuss the disappearance of David Hartley of Colorado on a lake that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We just want a body," Sheriff Gonzalez said. "We cannot arrest anybody for what happened in Mexico, we cannot prosecute on the state level anybody for what happened in Mexico. We just want a body. I did send word to the drug cartel, the Zeta cartel in Mexico, I sent word to them unofficially. I can't tell you how but I sent word to them."

Gonzalez said he has not received a response.

Cuellar, a Texas Democrat joined by two other area congressmen, said Mexico was "doing the best that they can."

Martin Cuellar, sheriff of nearby Webb County and the congressman's brother, said Mexico started searching for Hartley on Friday, the day after the call about the shooting came in. The Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry said Wednesday they had been coordinating a search "from the first moment" Tiffany Hartley reported her husband's shooting.

Ruben Rios, a spokesman for the Tamaulipas state prosecutor's office, said Tamaulipas authorities have not opened an investigation into Hartley's death because they don't have a formal complaint. He said they were helping with the search, with U.S. authorities, as a courtesy to Zapata County, Texas, officials.

"There isn't a complaint, there isn't a body, we don't have anything to go on and open an investigation," he said.

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Henry Cuellar released briefing papers shortly before a joint U.S.-Mexico news conference that said U.S. consular officers had accompanied Tiffany Hartley to the Mexican consulate in McAllen, Texas, to file a Mexican federal complaint. But no complaint with state authorities had been filed that would trigger a local murder investigation.

Drug war violence has spread in the last few months from Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of Mexico's drug war across from El Paso, Texas, to the Gulf Coast region of Mexico, including Tamaulipas state where Hartley reportedly disappeared. Two drug gangs, the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, are battling for supremacy there and fighting the Mexican military.

The Hartley family has said Mexican authorities are not doing enough to find their relative's body, but hearing about the threats from gangs, backed off their earlier comments.

David Hartley's father, Dennis, said he understands the dangers Mexican search parties face and that they "are doing the best they can with the resources they have."

"It's really tough and difficult for the Mexican state police to do a good, thorough job because they are outmanned and outgunned by the cartels," he said. "I know ... we'd hate to see any other family lose a son when they are trying to do a search in which they are outgunned and outmanned."

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