Brazilian police are once again facing accusations of committing unchecked violence after eight people were found dead in a slum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
The bodies were recovered on Monday from a mangrove swamp on the edge of a complex of shantytowns in the city of São Gonçalo, which makes up part of metropolitan Rio.
Locals told media the dead were piled up on top of each other and several showed signs of having being tortured. The family of a 17-year old adolescent killed said one of his fingers had been cut off.
“This was clearly a massacre,” a resident told the Globo news organisation.
A local police unit had entered the area to carry out an operation after a police officer was killed by criminals while on patrol nearby on Saturday. They were reportedly acting on a tip-off that one of the officer’s killers was hiding in the community after being wounded.
The police said they had engaged criminals during the operation.
Brazil’s state police forces have a long history of taking revenge on poor communities in which their comrades have been killed. Researchers at Rio’s state university have found that the killing of an officer raises the chances of a civilian being killed by police the next day by 350 per cent, with the desire for revenge the main explanation for the spike.
Residents say there are more bodies in the mangrove. State prosecutors and the local public defenders office said they have opened an investigation into the killings, as have police. But historically investigations into police violence have made little headway in Rio.
Following politicians linked to the country's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro taking control of the state government in 2019, the body responsible for investigating police abuses was shut down. Since then the number of police being investigated has plunged while deaths at police hands have spiked.
In the first seven months of this year 811 people were killed by police in Rio, or 38 per cent of all homicides in the state. The total represented a 88 per cent increase on the total for the same period last year, even though the country’s supreme court has imposed restrictions on police operations in the state.
In May evidence emerged that Rio police carried out summary executions in a slum during an operation that left 28 people dead, including one officer, in what was the deadliest police operation in the state’s history.
Authorities denied any wrongdoing but last month the first charges related to the massacre were brought against two officers whom prosecutors said planted evidence at the scene where one of the police victims was killed.
Last month also saw police in the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais kill 26 heavily armed bank robbers who were caught surrounded in a hideout. Human rights defenders have demanded to know why none of the group was taken alive in the operation in which no police were injured.