October 22, 2013 / 8:46 PM / 6 years ago

Brazil charges 15 more police officers in torture, death of Rio bricklayer

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday charged an additional 15 state police officers in the torture and death of a bricklayer who disappeared from a city slum in July.

Ten officers were also charged earlier this month in the case which prosecutors say involved abduction, torture, slaying and coverup by police, who said they believed the 42-year-old construction worker, Amarildo Dias de Souza, had information about drugs and weapons in the Rio slum.

The case has brought renewed scrutiny of human rights abuses by Rio police even as they try to clean up neighborhoods once dominated by criminal gangs.

Just as Rio prepares to host games in next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics, the charges illustrate how far officials have yet to go in reforming local police.

During recent decades of soaring crime and dominance by drug gangs across giant swaths of Rio, Brazil’s second biggest city, some police adopted vigilante-style tactics to pursue extrajudicial cleanups. Death squads targeted criminals, and corrupt officers waged violent turf wars.

Local authorities in recent years have successfully pushed drug gangs out of some favelas, as the slums are known, especially those in wealthier parts of the city and near venues for the World Cup and Olympics. But favela residents and human rights activists say police still mete out summary justice.

De Souza’s body is still missing after he vanished from Rocinha, a massive hillside favela near Rio’s wealthy shore.

Among the accused is the former commander of the police force there, who was fired from his post after the abduction and is in custody, facing charges including torture and the hiding of a corpse. Prosecutors say the former commander ordered subordinates to detain and question de Souza and, after the torture killed him, hide his body.

After voice analyses and interviews with police who were ordered to guard a small shed where the abuses occurred, investigators identified four officers who prosecutors say carried out the torture, including simulated drowning, electric shocks and asphyxiation with a plastic bag.

If convicted, the accused face prison sentences of up to 33 years.

Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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