Twenty five Brazilian police officers have been convicted for their role in a 1992 prison massacre that left 111 inmates dead when police invaded a São Paulo jail to put down a rebellion by inmates.
In the early houses of Saturday morning, a jury found the men – all part of São Paulo’s elite Rota paramilitary force at the time of the massacre – guilty of 52 of the 73 cases brought against them by prosecutors.
A judge sentenced them to a total of 624 years in prison, saying they should serve a minimum of 12 years each but could remain at liberty while they appeal their convictions.
The Carandiru trial has become emblematic of Brazil’s dysfunctional justice system, in which cases can take years to reach a conclusion, with those convicted of murder and other serious crimes often remaining free until all legal avenues have been exhausted, a process that can take decades.
Though many Brazilians supported the police action, prosecutors said it had negative consequences for society, the massacre being one of the motives for the creation in 1993 of the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital), or PCC, a prison gang that has grown into Brazil’s most powerful underworld organisation.
“If anyone thinks the massacre was a good thing they are very wrong. One of the items in the PCC’s statutes is that it was created to avoid things like this,” said prosecutor Eduardo Olavo Canto Neto.
Among those convicted on Saturday is police lieutenant colonel Salvador Madia, who despite the accusations against him rose through the ranks to lead the Rota unit up until last year.
Allegations of executions
The most lethal force in São Paulo's security apparatus, Rota has frequently been accused of summarily executing criminal suspects. Its killing of PCC leaders last year sparked a murky underground war between the police and the PCC which has left several hundred people dead in Brazil's biggest city over the last year.
A 2010 internal police investigation into Rota obtained by Brazilian media claimed officers were involved in murder and extortion against the PCC. The officers convicted on Saturday are the second group of accused to be found guilty for their role in the massacre. In April, another 23 police officers were sentenced to 156 years in prison. They are also appealing the decision.