May 8, 2019 / 7:19 PM / 15 days ago

Brazil federal prosecutors open probe into Rio army killing

Luciana Nogueira, widow of Evaldo Rosa dos Santos, who was killed during a military operation, reacts during Santos' funeral in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 10, 2019. Picture taken April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened a probe into a botched army operation in Rio de Janeiro that killed two innocent civilians, arguing that a decision to have military prosecutors investigate the case violated the constitution.

Last month, soldiers stationed in a violent Rio neighbourhood pumped 80 bullets into a family’s car, killing Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and Luciano Macedo and injuring two others.

The incident highlighted the risks of a growing militarization of public security in Brazil.

After the shooting, the army said it had arrested 10 soldiers in a probe run by military investigators.

In a statement on Wednesday, the federal prosecutor’s office said it had opened its own probe, given that the soldiers were representatives of the federal government. It cited a resolution by the attorney general’s office on April 9 that called the military probe “unconstitutional.”

Soldiers are shouldering a growing share of police work in Brazil, where violence spurred by warring gangs led to a record 64,000 murders in 2017. Over the last few years, Brazil has come to rely more heavily on the military to take over law and order from poorly trained, financially stretched state police forces.

For much of last year, Brazil’s military was in charge of public security in Rio de Janeiro state.

The number of murders in 2018 fell 7 percent from the previous year to 4,950, Rio state data show. However, the number of people killed in confrontations with security forces rose 36 percent over the same period.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who later served nearly three decades as a Rio state lawmaker, took office on Jan. 1 vowing a hardline approach to fighting Brazil’s gangs.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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