Citizen’s Video Indicates Police Misconduct after Child’s Death in Metropolitan Rio

A mobile phone video contradicts police statement and serves as evidence in the case of (another) stray bullet killing a child in the State of Rio de Janeiro. The crime happened last Saturday, April 2, in Magé, a city in Rio’s Metropolitan Area.

Matheus at School. Photo source: Family archive (photo circulated in WhatsApp)
Matheus at School. Photo source: photo circulated in WhatsApp and in mainstream media.

Around 5 pm, 5-year-old Matheus Santos de Moraes was killed during a police raid against drug traffickers in Vila Maia, a crime-ridden, low-income working class neighborhood. He was playing marbles next to his mother by their house’s gate when a bullet hit his head. In the crime’s aftermath, a crowd burned over a dozen buses and looted shops in the center of the city. Magé has never seen these kinds of acts in its history.

As usual, versions of the facts differ between police and residents. According to the police, drug dealers shot first and they reacted. According to local residents, there was no conflict. They claim police officers arrived at the narrow street shooting.

The investigations remain, but an important piece of evidence arose yesterday (Monday 4). A local residents’ mobile phone video circulated via WhatsApp shows a police officer collecting shell casings moments after the crime. Homicide investigators also claimed that it took over seven hours for the responding police officers to announce the crime.

After the video appeared in mainstream media channels, the police officers involved in the case were taken into custody as investigations of their misconduct in the crime scene proceed.

Cases of violence, the action of organized crime and the general fear have increased in Magé, my hometown, in the past years. In 2014, at the occasion of the World Cup, I wrote about fear and crime in the city and how it may relate to the failing security policies of the State. I also wrote (in Portuguese) about the different relationship between police and low-income residents of crime-ridden areas in Magé in contrast to the favelas in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

It’s not so clear whether this relationship will change for worse after the shocking death of Matheus and the evidence against the police’s misconduct in the crime’s aftermath. The only known fact is that a child died in a context of increasing – and apparently uncontrollable – armed conflicts  among drug-dealing groups as well as between them and the police.

My name is Leonardo Custódio. I am as PhD candidate at the University of Tampere, Finland, to where I moved from Magé in 2007. Read more about me, this blog and my studies here.