Latin America & Caribbean

Brazilian mother turns detective to get justice for son

Photo of Marcia de Silva Oliveira Jacintho Image copyright Rodrigo Picorelli
Image caption Marcia da Silva Oliveira Jacintho decided to delve deeper into the death of her son

Marcia da Silva Oliveira Jacintho's son Hanry was shot dead by Brazilian police in 2002.

The police said Hanry had resisted arrested and they had acted in self-defence.

But Ms Jacintho never believed their story.

She turned detective to prove the shooting was murder and after six years, the officers involved were convicted.

But according to Amnesty International, her story is a rare exception.

The pressure group reviewed 220 cases of people who were shot dead by police in Rio de Janeiro in 2011 while allegedly resisting arrest.

Amnesty International found that only in one case was a police officer charged.

Painful memories

On the morning of 21 November 2002, 16-year-old Hanry was not on Ms Jacintho's mind.

Image copyright Courtesy of the Jacintho family
Image caption Hanry was 16 years old when he was shot dead by police

Her granddaughter had a fever, and she had to take the little girl to the nearest hospital.

Hanry worked as an office assistant during the day and studied at night.

"I stood at the door and watched him leave," Ms Jacintho remembers with emotion.

"It's been 13 years, but when I talk about it, it all comes rushing back."

Hanry, a shy, football-loving teenager, never returned.

Battle for the truth

The following day Ms Jacintho started on a a path she would have never imagined for herself.

Image copyright Rodrigo Picorelli
Image caption Ms Jacintho said it "was a question of honour, to clear my son's name"

"My life until then was work, home, church," the now-54-year-old said. "I didn't know my rights."

Violent clashes between police and drug gangs were not unusual in the Rio neighbourhood of Gamba she called home.

"The police used to come up here and we saw a lot of confrontation. I saw a lot of dead bodies," she said.

That evening, while preparing the family's evening meal, Ms Jacintho heard shots on the other side of the neighbourhood.

But it was not until the following day that Ms Jacintho discovered the truth. The shots she had heard had been fired during the police operation in which Hanry was killed.

Identifying her son's body at the morgue was traumatic.

She says that because Hanry was not involved in any drug gangs, a part of her kept expecting him to come home even though in her heart she felt something had happened to him.

"It was like walking into a horror film. There was no respect for families, there were several bodies piled into one room and it smelled terrible.

"I couldn't enter the room. My husband and a friend went with me. I tried to lift up my head to look at him, but I just passed out. I couldn't do it."

'Shootout'

Marcia was determined to find out how her son had died.

Official documents suggested he had been killed in what Brazilian police describe as "auto de resistencia" (resisting arrest).

Image copyright Courtesy of the Jacintho family
Image caption Identifying Hanry's body at the morgue was traumatic

Under Brazilian law, the circumstances of such deaths have to be investigated.

But as it was handled internally by Rio's Civil Police force, Ms Jacintho was not at first given access to the case files.

Next, she approached Rio state's Commission of Human Rights.

With its help, Ms Jacintho eventually got access to the statements given by the officers involved in the shooting.

The police alleged that Hanry had been hit during a shootout between police and gang members.

They said that a revolver and packets of marijuana had been found on Hanry's body, suggesting he was a drug dealer and they had acted in self-defence.

"I couldn't believe it," Ms Jacintho said.

In their statements, the officers also said that they had taken Hanry to hospital to try to save his life.

Detective work

"I used to want to be in the police, and I always watched detective films. I decided to look into the facts myself," Ms Jacintho said about what she did next.

"I didn't allow myself to be afraid. It was a question of honour, to clear my son's name," she said.

Image copyright Courtesy of the Jacintho family
Image caption Ms Jacintho says life will never be the same, but the fight for justice has inspired her to help others

Armed with a camera and a notebook, she spoke to people living near the scene of the shooting.

One witness overheard police saying that Hanry was already dead, contradicting the officers' statement that they were trying to get him to hospital to save his life.

Another saw police taking a sheet from a washing line to wrap the body in.

A third said he had seen police approach Hanry and take him to the woods, something the officers had not mentioned.

Ms Jacintho sent the evidence she had gathered to the governor of Rio, who passed it on to the civil police, which is in charge of criminal investigations.

Her evidence proved key as it cast doubt on the veracity of the police statements and triggered an analysis of the trajectory of the bullet that killed Hanry.

Forensic experts concluded that he was shot at close range from above, and not, as the officers had said, from a distance and from the bottom of a hill.

Two years and nine months after the shooting, a murder investigation was finally launched into Hanry's death.

In 2008, officers Marcos Alves da Silva and Paulo Roberto Paschuini were found guilty of murder and procedural fraud for planting of drugs and a gun on Hanry's body.

The battle goes on

"They kept their heads down in court and never looked at me," Ms Jacintho recalled.

But while she was satisfied his killers went to jail, she too felt imprisoned, she said.

"I imagine what Hanry would be like now, at 29, the grandchildren he could have given me," she said.

But her fight has also inspired her to study law and advise other mothers who have lost children as a result of police actions in Brazil.

"It's still the same," she said. "Mothers who know that there was no shootout the day their son died. I got justice, but that's very rare.

"My faith and my grandchildren help me. But the hardest thing is the memories I have."

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