A SHOT IN THE CHEST
William was happy in those days, he had just finished a technical course in Mechanics and would start a new job in a week. That night, he decided to go with his friends to a sound system street party on the UR-1, a section of Ibura neighborhood, in the city of Recife, where a music video of the local singer MC Fleshinho would be shot. The party gathered a lot of people in the streets near the Clube Nacional and the Gela Guela Bar. Everything was going well until the arrival of the Military Police, around 1:30 am, accompanied by Firefighters, technicians from Dircon (Executive Board of Urban Control) and CTTU (Companhia de Trânsito e Transporte Urbano – Transit and Urban Transport Company), in an operation to collect the tents, notify and close the bars in the region. The bars and tents were closed. There was no riot. Part of the audience left the place, but many people stayed there dancing, drinking and talking. After some time, the military police began to approach and search people who circulated on the sidewalks and streets, and tempers rose.
A taxi driver who usually picks up passengers in that region stated that, around 2:30 am, the police began to disperse the crowd “by throwing tear gas and firing rubber bullets in all directions.” According to him, people started to run trying to protect themselves and some reacted by throwing stones at the police. The taxi driver ran too, but was hit by one of the rubber bullets. The policeman who shot the rubber bullet at him was on the other side of the street and shouted: “Go home, I don’t want anyone here. Go home!”. A young man was hit in the knee by another rubber bullet and fell on the street. The taxi driver’s statements are part of the police inquiry opened at the 3rd Homicide Precinct to investigate William’s death.
"IT FELT AS IF AN IRON WAS ENTERING..."
Joice’s reaction to knowing
that her son had been shot
The 19-year-old and two of his friends were already leaving the party when the riot broke out. About 300 meters from the place where the police confronted the public, near Academia da Cidade Square, they saw another group of police officers beating a young man who had fallen to the ground. They joined other people who were begging the security agents to stop the attacks. At that moment, according to the reports of both of William’s friends, one of the policemen pulled out a pistol he was carrying in the front holster of his uniform, pointed the gun at the group and fired. The bullet hit William’s chest, and he toppled over.
According to the testimonies of eyewitnesses to the crime, when they realized that William had been hit, the police released the assaulted boy and left the scene without providing any help to the victim. William was still alive. He said he had been shot. One of William’s friends ripped his shirt and confirmed the perforation in his right chest. William was carried by his friends to the main street, where they say they were approached by a Patrol car whose occupants did not provide William any assistance. William ended up being taken to the Arnaldo Marques Polyclinic in the back of an S10 (an SUV vehicle) whose driver stopped to help them. He arrived at the Health Unit already lifeless.
Joice arrived at the polyclinic around 4:30 am. She still didn’t know about her son’s death. Her acquaintances present at the place did not have the courage to tell her the truth. She felt sick. Her blood pressure skyrocketed: 22/19. She was medicated. Then one of the doctors informed her that her son had already arrived there lifeless. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her eldest child, dead, only 12 days after his grandmother’s illness. Joice was still mourning the loss of her mother when she had to gather strength to face her son’s murder.
CRIME REVERBERATES IN THE MEDIA
William’s death reverberated in Pernambuco newspapers and news portals on the morning of Monday, January 13th. The titles of the articles spoke of a young man killed at a funk dance at Ibura neighborhood “during an operation by the Military Police” or “during a confusion between the Military Police of Pernambuco and the public present at a brega-funk dance”. William’s friends and relatives gave statements about the young man’s peaceful and affectionate temperament. Julio Herminio de Moura Neto, who had lived with William for four years, gave an interview that day to newspapers clamoring for justice. At the inquest, witnesses described William as “a quiet person who never got into trouble.”
William’s funeral took place in the city of Igarassu with press coverage. Amid strong commotion, relatives, friends and neighbors wore white shirts with a picture of William. “We had spent the whole day at the pool enjoying and having fun. I said goodbye to him and he told me he was going home, and afterwards I got the news that he was at UR-1 and that there was a party going on and the police came shooting randomly, with rubber bullets, gas bombs and everything. The police actually arrived there creating a riot”, reported one of William’s friends at the time.
What shocked Joice most was the omission of help. “I want justice because my son was shot and the police did not help him, nor did they let his friends around him help him,” she told reporters.
Faced with the negative repercussions, the Pernambuco Military Police released an official statement the day after the “sound system street party” associating William’s death with a fight between rival local groups. The note stated that the police members of the 19th BPM (military police battalion) who participated in Operation Bar Seguro (Safe Bar Operation) in Ibura neighborhood received information “that there was a fight, possibly, between rival groups in the area”. As they moved, the note said, “the police found the victim already shot in a private car, already being rescued.”
The note claims to be “irresponsible any assumption or accusation of authorship of the shooting or omission of help, and any similarity to the situation pointed out in a fact in the state of São Paulo is untrue”, in reference to the death of nine people trampled on during an action by the Military Police in that state at a funk dance in the community of Paraisópolis, on December 1, 2019, when the police tried to disperse the public with gas bombs and rubber bullets. Nine Military Police officers would be denounced by the São Paulo Public Prosecutor’s Office for murder in this case.
The “gangs fight” version revolted William’s family. “There was no cross-fire, no gang fighting, none of that. We need to know what happened, it was a single shot that killed William, that took William from his mother, his family, his father. How many more young people need to die?” asked the victim’s aunt, Patrícia Santos, after the Military Police’s public demonstration.
Three days after the crime, on Wednesday, the 15th, William’s family and friends blocked the intersection of Dois Rios Avenue with Rio Xingu Avenue in both directions, in protest against the crime and demanding justice.
At the time, the Social Defense Secretariat informed that a preliminary internal investigation into the crime would be opened. And, “in case of sufficient elements, the Internal Affairs could institute a Disciplinary Administrative Procedure or an inquiry”.
The report asked SDS for information on the progress of the investigations. The SDS General Internal Affairs Office informed “that an Administrative Disciplinary Proceeding (PAD) whad been instituted against the Military Police soldier. Currently, the Disciplinary Council against the military is in progress. The Disciplinary Board judges whether the military police officer is considered incapable of remaining active due to irregular conduct or for acting incorrectly in the performance of the position, guaranteeing the right to ample defense and adversary proceedings”.
Fourteen military police officers participated in the Operação Bar Seguro (Safe Bar Operation) in the early hours of Sunday, 12, at Ibura, according to a list requested from the 19th Battalion of the Pernambuco Military Police by the police chief of the 3rd Homicide Precinct, responsible for the investigation on William’s death. They were heard for four days between late January and early February. All of them denied that they had ever fired a lethal weapon. None of them confirmed the attacks on a boy near the Academia da Cidade Square. Most of them said they had learned indirectly that someone had been shot and rescued. Some of them were later sent to the health unit Polyclinic Arnaldo Marques to confirm the fact and learned of William’s death.
Civil Police investigations, however, dismantled the Military Police’s version. Based on eyewitness testimony, they managed to reconstruct the facts from the seizure of a motorcycle made by CTTU (Companhia de Trânsito e Transporte Urbano – Transit and Urban Transport Company) that night in the same region. They reached the driver and the passenger who accompanied him. The two said that they were riding a motorcycle when they were approached and knocked down by the police at the Academia da Cidade Square. The driver managed to escape, but the passenger still on the ground was punched and kicked. The scene narrated by friends who were with William – and denied by the police – was proven.
“THERE WAS NO FIREFIGHT, NO GANG FIGHT, NONE OF THAT. WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, IT WAS A SINGLE SHOT THAT KILLED WILLIAM, THAT TOOK WILLIAM FROM HIS MOTHER, FROM HIS FAMILY, FROM HIS FATHER. HOW MANY YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO DIE?”
– Patrícia Santos, victim’s aunt
PROVES POLICE AUTHORSHIP
Fifteen firearms in the possession of military police officers were subjected to ballistics inspection to identify whether the bullet recovered from William’s body came out of any of them.
The report, signed by criminal expert Moisés da Silva Constantino, from Institute of Criminalistics Prof. Armando Samico, pointed the Taurus brand pistol, caliber 40, with 12.3 cm barrel, serial number SBY 37051, belonging to the Pernambuco Military Police, as the one that fired the fatal shot to William da Silva Melo’s chest in dawn on January 12, 2020.
The soldier of the military police who carried the weapon during the operation was indicted in the police investigation for manslaughter, when he took the risk of killing.
“Indictment of the soldier for committing a homicidal action against William, an action that would have been practiced with eventual intent, since neither the author nor the victim even knew each other, there was no prior involvement between them, something that justified the plaintiff’s animus necandi in relation to the victim, however, when the author fired a shot into the crowd, hitting the victim, he knew of the risk he took of hitting and killing someone, and ended up accepting the risk in such a way that it appears, unless otherwise agreed, the eventual intent, and therefore, the author was indicted under the terms of article 121 of the Penal Code”, says the final report signed on March 9, 2020 by the Civil Police Chief Francisco Océlio Lima Ribeiro.
The civil police chief gave credit to the testimonies of friends who helped William. “The police do not have a credible version, because when their testimony was heard, none of the officers reported that one of them fired a shot into the crowd, not even the author, despite this having occurred, since the micro ballistic confrontation forensics concluded that the projectile that was extracted from the victim’s body was expelled from the barrel of the gun of one of these police officers”.
The investigations ruled out any relationship between William’s death and the turmoil generated by the actions of the Military Police when giving the command to disperse the crowd. “Obviously, the shooting had no relation to the turmoil generated when the military intervened… as the two events took place at different times and places”.
On May 30, 2020, the Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint to file a criminal action against the military police officer who killed William for aggravated homicide for a shameful reason, discarding any justification of self-defense or excluding illegality: “in the moments before the crime none of the people intervened in the beating of the driver who was the target of the police approach, given that, despite their protests, the people kept considerable distance from the effective, limiting themselves only to protesting verbally”.
Concluding that “in view of the verbal protests of those watching the scene, the accused, moved by anger and in a clear demonstration of force, drew the lethal weapon he was carrying and fired a shot towards the crowd, in relation to which he had the main mission of protect”.
The Justice received the accusation and the action was instituted in the 12th Criminal Court of the Capital. The subpoena for the defendant to rule was only issued on January 6, 2021. After nearly 1 year of this order, the action continues to proceed slowly in the courts.
Not a day goes by without Joice thinking of her eldest son killed by the police. “I really like traveling, we used to go to Ceará, Natal, João Pessoa. He was my partner in everything. He used to go with me everywhere. Sometimes a son doesn’t like to go out with his mother, but he did. He accompanied me everywhere. I lost a friend and a partner. Every party I would go to, he would go too. If it was a Mass, he would go too. I lost a companion, a friend of all hours. He was always with me”.
William’s death also affected his brother, two years younger. The psychologist who helped him after the crime asked Joice to remove the banner she had won with William’s photo from her living room because the image was affecting him. “He suffered a lot from the loss of his brother. They were very close”, says Joice. William’s younger brother stays more at home than he used to. He stopped going to many places he used to go before. “I just have him. Today I’m much more worried”, says the mother.