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English Report

From January to May of 2003, the Military Police of São Paulo killed 435 people - an average of almost three homicides daily. These figures reveal an increase of 51 percent relative to the same period in the previous year.

Police Violence and Death Squads in São Paulo

Fermino Fechio*

Despite the difficulty to gather information on this subject, existing data from the Office of Public Security, shows that the number of violent crimes increased considerably during the 1990s in the state of São Paulo.

In the state capital, the homicide rate per hundred thousand habitants was 38.9 in 1993, rose to 53 in 1995, and to 59.2 in 1999. In the city of Ribeirão Preto, we found the same evidence: the rate was 15.89 in 1991, and jumped to 44.64 in 1998, showing that this violence is not restricted to urban centers. It also reached medium size the cities. In 2001, the Seade Foundation registered 15,341 homicides in the entire state.

The increase in the crime rate coincided with the escalating number of cases of police violence, and accusations of police involvement with crime. There is also a growing number of cases involving police participation in the executions of youth in the state of São Paulo. One example happened during Carnival of 1999, in the Baixada Santista area, when three young men were detained, assassinated, and buried by military policemen. Another case was registered in Ribeirão Preto, where the police killed three young men who were shot and abandoned in the middle of a marsh. This crime was attributed to two military policemen who were later expelled from the corps.

But, that is not the rule. Most cases are not even investigated. In March of 1999, four adolescents were summarily executed by civil policemen from Campinas. The crime scene was not preserved, the evidence was smothered, the bodies were removed to another county, the weapons disappeared, the policemen refused to perform forensic exams, the investigation dragged along for four years, and no one was punished. In this case, as in the majority of cases of "resistance to prison followed by death," the police involvement is not even considered.

Another example was the homicide of the Campinas Mayor in September of 2001. The police officer in charge of the investigation had been denounced as a torturer in 1975 by political prisoners of the military regime, in addition to having been accused of involvement with organized crime. Until now, the investigation has been full of contradictions.

The investigation of the October 2001 Caraguatatuba massacre has similar problems. In that case, four young men were executed by civil policemen in Campinas, inside a locked condominium. The crime scene was not preserved, the bodies were removed, the mattresses were incinerated, objects were stolen, investigative reports were forged, names of the police participants were omitted, the weapons used were unlawfully concealed from the forensic examination and, despite all that, two days later the governor said that the policemen's actions had been absolutely legitimate.

Some time later, two policemen who participated in that crime were arrested with a gang of kidnappers. Neither the governor nor anyone from the Office of Security came forward to rectify their earlier evaluation, to ask for more rigor in the investigations, or to apologize to the victims' relatives.

In the state capital, the Public Prosecutors Office is investigating a report about a group of elite military policemen linked directly to the cabinet of the Secretary of Public Security. This group was responsible for actions that resulted in dozens of people killed. They are accused of removing convicted inmates from prisons in order to infiltrate them into criminal organizations. In only one of these operations, the "Castelinho Massacre," twelve people were killed. The report also pointed out cases of death and severe injuries to the prisoners utilized by the GRADI in those operations.

In Ribeirão Preto, the police is accused of several killings, such as the following cases: Enoch Moura (18 years old), Anderson Luis (15 years old) and Fernando Neri (20 years old), as well as the youth Vitório, Marcelo, Alessandro, Rodrigo de Souza, and Sandro Lima. In August of 2002, the police killed two brothers, Vanderson (17 years old) and Anderson (18 years old), in addition to Marlene and her boyfriend Rodrigo, Maicon and Rogério, both of them 19 years old. In May of 2003, we documented the deaths of Leandro (18 years old) and Thiago (19 years old).

Some of these victims were executed with great violence. One boy was killed by blows from a hatchet inside of a single-person cell in a police precinct. Sandro Lima was executed inside of an operating room, in the presence of doctors and nurses, in the hospital where he had been taken wounded, after an earlier death attempt. The service was completed with gunshots from long-barreled arms equipped with silencers, by three men who entered the hospital.

Some of the policemen accused in those crimes were arrested later for other crimes, such as hijacking freight, smuggling and forming criminal gangs. Even so, the local autorithies were not worried about ensuring greater rigor in the investigations of the deaths attributed to them.

The Federal Government's initiative of creating a special commission to investigate death squads in São Paulo through the National Office of Human Rights, represents a source of hope for the victims' relatives. We expect that their demands for justice will be heard.

*Fermino Fechio is an attorney, a former Police Magistrate of the state of São Paulo, and Director of the Santo Dias Center for Human Rights.