Authorities say a gunfight broke out after police opened fire as they prepared to enter Villa Cruzeiro, a disadvantaged community where leaders of an alleged criminal group were suspected to have gathered.
In an official note released from his press office on Tuesday night, Rio’s military police said that although “necessary”, the operation could not be considered successful because of the casualties.
“A successful operation cannot be considered a death sentence,” the statement said.
At an earlier news conference, Rio de Janeiro Military Police Secretary Luiz Henrique Marinho Pires said the operation was encouraged by “criminal immigration” in the area, where he said other states were home to drug traffickers.
According to local activist Raul Santiago, after the raid, residents of Villa Cruzeiro gathered at the top of the hill where the shooting took place to search for the bodies. As a result of the campaign, schools and public health services are closed, said the city’s education secretary.
The crackdown was carried out in June 2020, despite a Brazilian Supreme Court ban on counter-narcotics operations in Rio de Janeiro’s densely populated slums in “exceptional” circumstances during the coronavirus epidemic. The ruling was made to avoid further pressure on public health and humanitarian services.
The press office of Getulio Vargas Hospital told CNN that 21 people had died at the hospital since the raid and six had been admitted with injuries.
Pierce said the anti-raid verdict drew the accused criminals to a poorer community.
“It’s a decision to make it (the community) their hiding place,” he told a news conference.
The death toll from a police operation in Rio de Janeiro has risen sharply, with strong criticism from human rights defenders.
A May 2022 study by researchers at Brazil’s Fluminense Federal University (UFF) found that between 2007 and 2021, police raids in Rio de Janeiro led to three massacres – where at least three people were killed – in disadvantaged communities each month.
A total of 2,374 people were killed during the police operation during that period, according to UFF data.
According to the UFF, Tuesday’s operation was the second deadliest of its kind in the city’s history. According to the university, in May 2021, 28 people were killed in the deadliest operation carried out by security forces in the Jacarajinho neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.