Latin America

Videos purport to show Rio police tampering with crime scene

Incident recorded by local residents represents fresh blow to slum community force

María Martín
A still from the video of police purportedly altering the murder scene in Rio.
A still from the video of police purportedly altering the murder scene in Rio.

The death of 17-year-old Eduardo Felipe Santos Víctor in a Rio de Janeiro slum on Tuesday could have been chalked up as just another of the many killings that occur during shootouts between police and drug traffickers in Brazil’s poor neighborhoods.

But two videos of the incident taken by local residents shed light on allegations that the police may have tampered with the crime scene to give support to the officers’ story that the young man was involved in a shootout and was carrying a two-way radio, a firearm and munitions.

A policeman grabs a pistol, cleans it and puts it in the victim’s hand

The recordings show a dying young man in a bloody t-shirt on the ground surrounded by three armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests. A fourth officer appears nearby and shoots his firearm in the air before giving it to one of his companions, who leaves it near the body of the man.

The policeman then grabs a pistol and cleans it carefully before kneeling over the body and putting it in the victim’s hand. He fires the pistol twice, gets up, looks at the body, and then realizes he has blood on his own hand.

The images end with the officer trying to clean his hand against the wall.

Following the death – the second killing in Rio’s Providência shantytown in a week – neighbors held several protests on the outskirts of the favela, near Rio’s port area, and threw rocks at police.

The Brazilian daily O Globo reported that a group of about 50 people held a demonstration in front of police headquarters where five officers were giving statements. Chanting “police murderers,” the protestors engaged in a confrontation with a group of officers who fired tear gas into the angry crowd.

According to figures up until June, at least two people are on average killed each day by police in Rio de Janeiro state.

Two officers have been charged with committing procedural fraud and three others are under investigation

After the videos surfaced, two officers were arrested and charged with committing procedural fraud while three others were also detained while authorities conclude their investigation to see what roles they may have played at the crime scene.

Secretary of state for public security, José Mariano Beltrame, has called for a thorough investigation.

But the incident is seen as a heavy blow to the state’s Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), a law enforcement community program created to try to keep the drug traffickers out of the dangerous favelas.

In recent years, the UPP has come under fire for different killings that have taken place in Rio’s slums. Last week, an 11-year-old boy died from a gunshot wound to the head during an alleged shootout between the UPP and traffickers in the Caju slum, also near Rio’s port area.

More information
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Brazilian police killed more people in five years than US officers did in 30

Iván Blaz, the UPP spokesman in Rio, said the video clearly showed officers manipulating the crime scene, “which is a heavy blow to the credibility” of the force. But he added that the past success rate in pacifying the favelas cannot “just be thrown out the back door because of an unfortunate incident like this one.”

Luiz Eduardo Soares, who served as public safety undersecretary in Rio from 1999 to 2000, explained that the UPP was facing a big crisis.

“This organization started to operate in a hasty manner, without the proper police training, which is essential,” he said, adding that it was created as part of a political move to “be seen as a safety belt at large events.”

English version by Martin Delfín.

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