RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- A leaked autopsy report shows that several of the young victims of Brazil’s deadliest police raid ever were shot by Rio’s Civil Police multiple times, in the back and at close range - offering new evidence to support the charge of extrajudicial killings and excessive police force.
The police raid in the Jacarezinho favela on May 6 killed 27 young men in what police said was a pursuit of young drug traffickers. The extreme violence sent shockwaves even through Rio’s battle-weary favela residents, caught in a vicious cycle of clashes among police, drug factions and increasingly, paramilitary groups.
The results of the autopsy from the state-run Afranio Peixoto Medical Legal Institute (IML) in Rio were published by O Globo this week but haven't been released to the public. They found that five of the victims were shot in the back, one had a wound produced by a shot fired at close range and another was shot six times.
The police have insisted that all the men killed in the raid in the Jacarezinho favela died in shootouts. But residents, activists and human rights lawyers said there were clear signs of extrajudicial killings during the nine-hour bloodbath.
“It was total barbarism,'' Guilherme Pimentel, a public defender of the families from Rio de Janeiro state, told VICE World News. “There was blood everywhere, buildings were destroyed, people were terrorized.”
Pimentel arrived at the favela the morning of the operation in response to reports of executions and human rights abuses.
Jose Jefferson Mendes Rufino da Silva, 30, was shot in the stomach at a distance of between 60 and 70 cm, according to pathologist Alberto Jorge de Souza Carvalho, who was responsible for overseeing the autopsy. Rufino da Silva was also shot in the back.
He was one of eight men killed inside favela residents' homes that day, according to Rio’s Homicide Office (DH). Many witnesses said the men were unarmed.
“I’m cornered!” said one of the young men on a phone call to his mother. “Within minutes, the police invaded and the phone was cut off. He was dead,” Renata Souza, a deputy from Rio’s legislative assembly, told VICE World News, recounting her conversation with the victim’s mother when she visited the favela hours after the raid.
Four other young men exhibited gunshot wounds in their backs. In the case of Jonathan Araujo da Silva,18 and Cleyton Da Silva Freitas de Lima, 26, the trajectory of the shots show they may have been fired on by snipers from below, the autopsy found.
The report supported witness assertions that Richard Gabriel da Silva Ferreira had been summarily executed with his 22-year old friend Isaac Pinheiro de Oliveira. Ferreira, 23, was shot six times: twice in the chest, once in the stomach, once in the back and once in each arm. The forensic investigation carried out in the house where both of them were killed did not find any traces of a gun battle, said the probe.
For Bruno Fernandes, a professor of criminal and penal law from the State University of Rio, the fact that Ferreira’s body exhibited multiple bullet wounds implies an execution. “Several bullet wounds would indicate that the police were not acting in self-defense but with the intent to kill,” he said.
Taken together, the killings showed a “repetition of unusual methods of exchanging gunfire” which leads to the appearance of excessive force, said Fernandes.
The Rio Civil Police Department said that it had not been provided with a copy of the autopsy and that the findings reported by O Globo in no way contradict the police’s original statement.
“The autopsy is compatible with what happens in cases of armed conflict in confined environments”, the Civil Police communications department said in an email to VICE World News. “A technical analysis is only possible after all of the evidence has been produced, thereby avoiding hasty conclusions''.
But the Civil Police has decreed a five-year secrecy period for its own documents related to the raid, under the Access to Information Law (LAI), including the identity of the police officers involved in the killings. Critics say that if there was no abuse on the part of the police, there would be no need to be opaque about their methods.
What’s more, experts have said that the move by the police overstepped legal boundaries. LAI prohibits secrecy decrees of documents related to the violation of human rights practiced by state agents.
“We must hold responsible those who gave the order and who carried out the killing!”, Federal Deputy Taliria Petrone said on Twitter.
Local media reports allege that the Civil Police tampered with evidence by removing 25 of the 27 bodies from the crime scene. The autopsy found that three men had scrapes on their bodies as well as gunshot wounds, indicating that they had been dragged. Four of the six men detained in the raid have accused the police of both physical and psychological torture after they were forced to carry the bodies of their companions.
Scared to come forward at first, one of the young men told Carla Vianna, a defense lawyer from the Human Rights Nucleus, when they met at the police station on May 9, that he had been forced to remove several of the bodies scattered on the street. “One of the men said police beat him multiple times and forced him to carry corpses,” she said.
Responding to public pressure to improve police accountability for extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, Federal Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin ordered the police on May 12 to enforce the existing law that requires GPS devices on uniforms and in vehicles, as well as the use of body cams and recording equipment during police operations.
The law has rarely been obeyed since it was introduced in Rio in 2009. Rio de Janeiro Governor Claudio Castro - an ally of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro - has opposed using video cameras during police operations.