By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Early on Sunday, July 27th, Rio de Janeiro civil police arrested six military police officers under suspicion of falsifying acts of resistance during a Police Pacifying Unit (UPP) operation in Morro do Fogueteiro favela community that had resulted in two deaths on the previous day, July 26th.
Morro do Fogueteiro resident, 38 year-old Vitor Luis Rodrigues died of gunshots wounds during the UPP operation and resident, twenty-three year old Rafael de Souza, died later on Saturday, after being transported to a hospital in Centro where he succumbed to a gunshot wound he had received during the operation.
According to the military police, on Saturday between 2PM and 4PM, they had been on a routine patrol of the area of for the UPP Coroa, Fallet and Fogueteiro. When they reached Eliseu Visconti street in Santa Teresa, they engaged in a shootout with alleged drug dealer Vitor Luis Rodrigues.
Daniele Barbosa dos Santos, wife of Rodrigues and mother of four told a different side of the story, stating that her husband was in no way involved in the drug trade. “He was not a drug dealer. My husband worked as a taxi driver. He was going up the hill with his motorcycle to come home when he was accosted by PMs and they shot him in the leg and another in the head. Then threw the body in a ditch that was nearby,” Santos told O Dia. “They executed my husband.”
The official report from the inspector of Precinct 5, shows that Rodrigues was shot four times; twice in the leg, once in the abdomen and once in the head. Additionally during the incident, one police officer was reportedly wounded in the face by shrapnel bullets.
On his person after his death, Rodrigues was allegedly found with a .40-caliber pistol. Although witness statements say Rodrigues was not shooting at police. Also reportedly found on Rodrigues’ body were 175 grams of cannabis, and a notebook with accounts of trafficking.
Following the shooting of Rodrigues, police say they were surrounded by additional drug traffickers and were trapped for two hours while waiting for reinforcements. During that time additional shots were fired, one of which hit Rafael de Souza. Souza was reportedly in his home when he was shot.
During the early morning hour of Sunday, six of the military police involved in the operation were arrested by Rômulo Vieira, a delegate from Precinct 5 (Mem de Sá), under suspicion of forging the resisting arrest claims. During the arrest police also seized three rifles and seven pistols and the six officers were taken to the Unidade Prisional da Polícia Militar (BEP), in Benfica.
“This obviously would further undermine the confidence of local communities in the police and the UPPs; however, this is unlikely to be as damaging as the Amarildo case in Rocinha,” IHS Inc Senior Principal Analyst, Latin America, Carlos Caicedo told The Rio Times, referencing the disappearance and later discovered death by torture from police of Rocinha bricklayer Amarildo de Souza.
That incident lead to the indictment of 24 policemen and UPP commander Edson Santos. It also sparked outrage in Rocinha and greater Rio, fueling tension between pacified favela communities and the police. “Also, police corruption is not new to UPPs,” Caicado added.”I understand that the former Captain of the UPP in the area was removed in 2010 because of corruption. It would be interesting how serious the police [are] in prosecuting the rogue UPPs members. If they do that, it will help to limit the damage.”
The Office of Police Pacification (Coordenadoria de Polícia Pacificadora or CPP) has opened an investigation of the military police. This CPP unit was launched in July 2012 in response to a series of police corruption scandals in Rio favelas where the UPP program has been in place.