Brazilian police operation that has killed 16 is revenge for murdered colleague: Human rights groups

By August 3, 2023

São Paulo Brazil – Following the death of a military policeman, allegedly at the hands of drug traffickers from Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazilian police began an operation in the area that has resulted in the deaths of 16 people as of August 2. 

The operation has drawn criticism and human rights groups are accusing the police of excessive violence and abuse. São Paulo’s state government denies the accusations, and says the goal of the operation is to combat organized crime and drug trafficking. 

The case began on July 27 when military police officer Patrick Bastos Reis, from the elite battalion of the São Paulo Military Police, was killed during a routine patrol in a poor community in Guarujá, a city with around 320,000 residents and that has a lot of drug dealing activity because it is close to a ship port. 

Another officer was shot in the hand but survived. Police reacted immediately, launching what they called “Operation Shield,” a search bloc of police officers combing poor communities in the area in search of those involved in the policeman’s murder. 

About 600 officers are participating in the operation and, according to the police, so far 84 people have been arrested and 21 weapons and almost 400 kilograms of drugs have been seized.

Reis’ suspected killer, Erickson David da Silva, surrendered to authorities on July 30, three days after the killing, and also made a plea on social media for the authorities to stop the bloodshed in Guarujá. The suspect, known as ‘Deivinho’, lives in a community close to where the police officer was killed. Allegedly, he is a kind of “sniper” for drug dealing.

Local residents have accused the police of abuse, including torture, during the operation. Family members claim that innocent people were taken from their homes and shot to death. The Police Ombudsman, who investigates police conduct and possible irregularities, has received dozens of complaints and promised to investigate potential abuses.

One of the dead is Cleiton Barbosa Moura, 24, a mason’s assistant who was arrested years ago for drug dealing. His wife, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, told news portal G1 that Moura was not involved in crime and was “pulled” out of the house by the police while taking care of their 10-month-old son.

“He was finishing his problem with the Justice, but that doesn’t justify what they did. The feeling is of sadness,” said the woman. Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that a homeless man was also killed in the operation. The police report reportedly identified the man as homeless, and officers involved claimed they acted in self defense. 

The Brazilian press also reported the deaths of mason’s assistant Layrton Fernandes da Cruz Vieira de Oliveira, 22, and beach hut salesman Filipe do Nascimento, 22. According to the family, Vieira was killed inside a friend’s house. His dog advanced on the police and was also killed. And a friend of Nascimento’s said he was killed while he was going to the market.

So far, the police have not officially confirmed the names of the 16 dead, nor their alleged involvement in the death of officer Reis, which raised even more doubts about the brutality of the operation.

Military policeman Patrick Bastos Reis was killed on July 27 in a poor community in Guarujá

Slaughter in Guarujá

In Brazil, mass murders, normally motivated by revenge, are called “chacina” (slaughter in English). The operation in Guarujá has been called a “chacina” by human rights organizations who claim the police operation is revenge for the death of their colleague. 

The State Council for the Defense of the Rights of the Human Person (Condepe) has asked the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate “Operation Shield.” 

“Condepe understands that this is a ‘chacina.’ We collected allegations of torture, ill-treatment and abuse of authority by the police,” said council president Dimitri Sales.

A member of the Genocide Protection Network, Marisa Fefferman, criticized the deaths committed by the police. “Residents are saying that it is a climate of total terror. People are too scared to leave their homes,” she told Agência Brasil.

For Douglas Belchior, from the Union of Popular Education Centers for Blacks and the Working Class (Uneafro), the residents’ reports pointed to the occurrence of human rights violations: “There is evidence of torture.”

Governor of São Paulo, Tarcísio de Freitas, at a press conference with police authorities. Image courtesy of Geraldo Jr/SSP

The governor is satisfied

São Paulo’s Governor Tarcísio de Freitas — who also served as Minister of Infrastructure under former President Jair Bolsonaro — said he was satisfied with the police operation in Guarujá. He denied the allegations of abuse, but said any evidence of excessive violence would be properly investigated.

“I am extremely satisfied with the police operation and extremely saddened by the death of the police officer, because nothing will bring a family man back,” said the governor at a press conference. “There is no fight against organized crime without collateral effect.”

The governor also claimed that police in the operation were fired upon, leading them to react and cause the 16 deaths.