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Rio official pledges transparent probe in slaying

April 24, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro’s top security official on Wednesday promised a rigorous investigation into the death of a young man that sparked overnight clashes in a slum near a key Olympic venue and did not rule out that police may have been responsible.

Public Safety Director Jose Maria Beltrame told reporters the investigation would explore all possible hypotheses in the death of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, whose body was found Tuesday in the Pavao-Pavaozinho hillside “favela.”

Authorities didn’t initially make public a cause of death, although Periera’s mother, Maria de Fatima da Silva, told reporters that police had said her son died after falling from a wall, while she believed her was shot by police.

On Wednesday, Beltrame said an autopsy determined Pereira died from a gunshot wound.

Police killings in Rio’s shantytowns have become a hot-button issue ahead of the World Cup, which kicks off in 12 Brazilian cities in June. More than two dozen officers have been charged in the slaying of a man in another Rio slum last year. They allegedly tortured laborer Amarildo de Souza, who died as a result of the ordeal, and hid his body.

In an apparent bid to avoid another uproar like the one that arose over de Souza’s death, Beltrame repeatedly pledged transparency throughout the investigation. “No hypothesis has been ruled out,” he said.

“We are going to do everything possible, and with the upmost rigor and transparency possible, to present society with the answer to this,” he said.

Beltrame said a 10-officer police contingent had been dispatched to the slum late Monday following a tip on the whereabouts of drug gang members. The officers were met by heavily armed men and a short but intense firefight ensued. Two other officers found Pereira’s body on the premises of a day care center the next day, he said.

Beltrame condemned “speculation” about what happened to Pereira, a dancer on a popular variety show on the Globo network, but added that investigators would act swiftly on any indication that police were behind the shooting.

The Pavao-Pavaozinho slum is sandwiched between Rio’s showcase Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and is just a few hundred yards (meters) from where Olympic swimming events are to be held during the 2016 summer games. The favela erupted into violence late Tuesday following the discovery of Pereira’s body, and another man, Edilson da Silva dos Santos, was killed in the overnight clashes, according to a police statement.

News reports said Santos, who was in his mid-20s, was killed by a bullet to the head.

Rio’s police began an ambitious security program in 2008 to drive gangs from some of the city’s more than 1,000 slums and for the first time set up permanent posts. The “pacifying police units” are part of efforts to secure this notoriously violent city ahead of the World Cup and Olympics.

So far, 37 such units have been created, covering an area with a population of 1.5 million people. But critics complain the units tend to be clustered near wealthy, touristy neighborhoods and appear aimed more at keeping a lid on violent crime during the upcoming mega-events than protecting slum dwellers.

Police moved into Pavao-Pavaozinho in 2009.