Police in Brazil filmed ‘gassing mentally ill man to death in boot of car’

Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, 38, was stopped by federal police in the city of Umbaúba on Wednesday

Joe Middleton
Friday 27 May 2022 04:58 BST
Police were accused of turning the car into ‘gas chamber’
Police were accused of turning the car into ‘gas chamber’ (Metropoles)

Angry protests have erupted in Brazil over the police killing of a mentally ill black man who was bundled into a vehicle by officers who then let off a gas grenade.

Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, 38, who according to his family had schizophrenia, was stopped by federal highway police while he was travelling on a motorbike in the city of Umbaúba on Wednesday.

Video footage of the incident shows two officers holding the rear door of the vehicle as white smoke pours out of a 4x4.

A man’s legs can be seen protuding from car and the video is punctuated by anguished screams from the person inside the vehicle. Eventually the legs stop moving.

De Jesus Santos’s nephew, Alison, witnessed the incident and told local media his uncle had told officers that he suffered from mental health issues and had a prescription for medication in his pocket.

Samira Bueno the executive-director of the nongovernmental Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, told The Washington Post: “The images are just shocking. He’s tortured. He’s a mentally disturbed person, and it’s the story of you using the vehicle as a gas chamber to immobilize a person.”

Social media erupted over the images, and dozens of people gathered to protest Wednesday in Umbauba, where they blocked a road and burned tires.

In a statement, the Federal Highway Police said the man had displayed aggressive behavior and was “actively resisting” the officers who pulled him over.

The agents immobilised him and then used “instruments of lesser offensive potential” to contain him, the statement added.

Police claimed de Jesus Santos fell ill as he was being transported to a police precinct and was taken to a hospital, where his death was confirmed.

A preliminary autopsy concluded the man died of respiratory failure due to “mechanical asphyxia,” George Fernandes, a spokesperson for Sergipe state’s forensic institute, told the Associated Press.

The Federal Police has confirmed it has opened an investigation into the death of Genivaldo de Jesus Santos.

The incident comes just days after officers of the highway police participated in an operation in Rio de Janeiro that left more than 20 people dead.

Police have said they had no choice but to use lethal force, but accounts from residents published in local media have raised doubts about that claim.

President Jair Bolsonaro said he would find out from the Federal Highway Police what happened.

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