English translation of interview “Não acredito que vou morrer por causa do meu trabalho.” From O São Gonçalo, by Ari Lopez, Gustavo Carvalho & Kiko Charret, published August 12, 2011.
“I do not think I will die because of my work”
A few days ago, during an afternoon in her office, Judge Patricia Lourival Acioli granted O São Gonçalo what would be her last interview before being murdered. The text was already edited and the newspaper was just waiting for a photo shoot, which the judge postponed day after day. “You already have photos of me on archive. You can publish it with those,” she argued. It is with these archival photos that O São Gonçalo presents its readers with this unedited account of the magistrate’s work, who sat at the head of the grand jury of São Gonçalo for eleven years, a city with an historical average over the past 10 years of one homicide per day, according to the Institute of Public Security of Rio de Janeiro. “I’ve heard that they wanted to kill me. We are all afraid to die, but to have a fear of death is one thing, and not doing my job because of this fear is totally different. I do not think I will die because of my work,” said Patricia Acioli. Unfortunately for her and for São Gonçalo, the judge was wrong.
O São Gonçalo – In these eleven years leading the grand jury of São Gonçalo, have you ever received any threats? Have you received death threats?
Judge Patricia Acioli – I’ve heard that they wanted to kill me.
OSG – And you are afraid of being killed?
Patricia Acioli – We are all afraid to die, but to have a fear of death is one thing, and not doing my job because of this fear is totally different. I do not think I will die because of my work. It is a philosophical question that I prefer to abstain from, but I think when we act seeking something effectively concrete, you have protection. So I do not think I’ll die as a result of my work.
OSG – The police say that it is very difficult to work in São Gonçalo…
Patricia Acioli – Do you know why it’s hard work? Because we will verify if what they did was in self-defense or not. For example, if you are acting legitimately, if you’re in a confrontation and kill in a confrontation and you acted with force in that confrontation. What I find is the inversion of values. The right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right. There, they have a scheme that one cannot betray the other. If I see a police stealing, extorting from another there, I will not tell my boss? Or I will not take reasonable actions because he is my colleague? He’s not your colleague. He is a thief; he is a criminal. He has to be arrested by you. You’re not like him. But in all of this police end up having their values inverted. It ends up being, whoever complains, that guy begins to be reviled. So you ask why they fear my work? They do not fear my work. They fear the work of anyone that monitors their work, anyone that attempts to verify their work. The difference between my colleagues and I is that I go there. Whatever they bring me in writing, I’ll see whether or not it matches. In fact, I only do this in the situation of penal action and generally it is the requirement of the Public Ministry, who wants a reconstitution, a reconstruction of the facts. But that does not have to be verified by me. The city’s police officials are responsible for this type of investigation.
OSG – You said that the crime scene must be preserved, but wasn’t it your order that prevented PMs from assisting?
Patricia Acioli – No, nothing like that. I couldn’t give such an order. Because the one who knows how to act is the one who is there. These are meetings between the Public Ministry, the Military Police, police chiefs, investigators, and the Fire Department to resolve issues pertaining to autos de resistência [“acts of resistance”]. You see how these myths come up? The argument that PMs used is that it takes the crime labs 50 hours to arrive, that the firefighters they call never arrive to offer the appropriate assistance. So, what people ask of the police is that they act the same way they would act in any other situation involving an attempted homicide. When they arrive on the scene to investigate an attempted homicide and find that the victim is already dead, do they not preserve the site? Then, in the case of an act of resistance, they should do the same thing.
OSG – Over your 11 years on the bench, you have always been very strict in punishing crimes committed by police, the so-called “acts of resistance”…
Patricia Acioli – Recently, the Public Ministry of São Gonçalo, who was a pioneer in this regard, decided to use a fine-toothed comb [in its investigations]. In favela areas, or ghettos, police behavior had a “policy of confrontation.” So, the MP produced a study of these events and found abuses and crimes committed by police. In fact, these officers are following the orders of their superiors. But if you speak to them, they would never say that—much less their superiors. They give official orders which do not appear anywhere in writing. And, when called to their responsibilities, officials, commanders, say, “No, I never ordered them to do that; I only order them to enforce the law and strictly follow what the law requires.”
OSG – Is a crime committed by a police officer worse?
Patricia Acioli – For me, crimes committed by public officials, are failures of conduct. Because we cannot imagine that the public power would want someone to commit a crime. It is this way for cops, but it could be a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, an engineer, a judge, a journalist. The profession is irrelevant. He is criminal, who by chance took the test to be a PM or resolved to be criminal after he joined the force. This would describe the case of the militias, the case of trafficking, the case of the death squads. I’m referring to another type of situation that is much worse. Because when someone decides to be a gangster, they will be a gangster inside or outside of the police. If he cannot get into the police, he will be a gangster and once he eventually passes the test, he will still be a gangster. So do we have authority figures involved in crime? No. We have human beings involved in crime.
OSG – And in cases of acts of resistance?
Patricia Acioli – This is a very different thing, because we are not talking about criminals, but police who, in theory, are serving on previous orders. In fact, we only have victims in this situation. The victims there, who will receive such treatment from PMs, and the police victims because they will have to respond for everything they have done. Have you ever seen a colonel sitting at the defendant’s table?
OSG – Do you think people accept the violence and the excesses committed against criminals?
Patricia Acioli – It doesn’t matter if they are drug dealers or if they are thieves. Is it not written in the criminal code: ” you can kill drug dealers, kill thieves.” So, drug dealer, thief, whomever, they are all subject to the same law. If we are trying to arrest them, we are saying that they are not complying with the law, that the way he is acting is wrong—how are we going to arrive to arrest him if we ourselves are not complying with the law?
OSG – And are the police aware of this?
Patricia Acioli – A police officer will go into a community and be confronted, affronted in a way that if he does not shoot, he will die. So he is going there with fear. Have you put yourself in the position of a police officer, a person who is very poorly paid? Let’s talk about the good police officer, since there are many of them out there. A guy who’s not a thief, who does not live by deceit, a guy who keeps his determination, who honors the uniform he wears. He is paid poorly, he is exposed a whole lot; a lot is asked of him. He has no form of psychological support, of infrastructural assistance. Nobody wants to know if he has a problem, if his son is ill, if his wife is cheating on him, if he is having financial problems—nobody cares. The guy is poorly paid, poorly trained, and they give him a gun. Often he did not even know the power and potential of his firearm, that’s the truth. There was an incidenct that I observed, and I cannot tell where [laughs], in which a police officer grabbed a rifle to shoot and he did not know that a rifle has an intermittent setting, a burst setting, he didn’t know how to operate the weapon that he was handling. This can cause a tragedy of major proportions. So, in reality, we have victims on all sides.
OSG – And all that inspired this action by the Public Ministry?
Patricia Acioli – These prosecutions were triggered and the movement began here in São Gonçalo. It started because we have a prosecutor who is super active, Dr. Paulo Roberto, who is a very responsible person. And we had to try to motivate the public power, at least locally: the battalions, the chiefs of police, the forensic experts, the doctors, for them to comply with the law which is from 1940, which determines what are called “acts of resistance”: what investigation needs to be done at the crime scene, which cannot be left undone at the crime scene. Even if a guy shows up at the hospital with his head on one side and his body on the other, he was helped by the police. But independent of this question, there are other questions that should be asked. Even if he aids the victim—let’s imagine that he is alive—the place still has to be preserved. Is the officer not claiming that he was being shot at? If the officer is not hit and the car is not hit, then the bullets hit elsewhere. So the site has to be analyzed, to create that dynamic where the story the officer tells is questioned. After the crime scene investigation is finished, then there will be an autopsy to verify that his story is plausible. It is a responsibility of the Military Police; this is in their regulations, to preserve the site. And it is the duty of the police authorities to run the crime scene where there are traces and clues. If they cannot go in person, they must send an agent to check it out. If the law were enforced, these dubious situations would be resolved in a much more quiet way. The police will have more security in carrying out their professional activities and the citizen will have more certainty in the exercise of police activities. Crimes committed by state agents, to me, are those where the agent of the State commits a crime while performing their duties. And I say that he is more victim than author. Because, unfortunately—with cowardice—those who are responsible for enforcing this do not accept that responsibility.
OSG – But the police who kill repeatedly?
Patricia Acioli – He remains a victim, because when he returns to the battalion and says that he killed six in a confrontation, no one will verify how these deaths occurred. People will not check the scene; they will not investigate if this actually happened. Any policeman from any civilized country would be removed from the streets. If he participated in a clash that killed six people, even if it were legitimate, do you think he would be in condition to enter into another confrontation the next day? And the psychological factor of this professional? In any police, anywhere in the world, that officer will not return to the street the next day as if nothing had happened. It would be investigated, the truth of what actually happened in that confrontation would be sought out, he would be removed for a bit, he would receive treatment. Because a good person…could you imagine killing six people in one day in performing your duties? This is impossible. Us here, when we condemn people, it all went through a trial, a prosecution. Thank God we do not have the death penalty or even life imprisonment. Rather, here in Brazil, a guy who is sentenced for 30 years, which is the maximum sentence if the crime is heinous, he only serves two-fifths of the sentence, and then returns to society. We get sick. Imagine you, while doing your job, killed people…
OSG – If you think that these officers are most often victims, then why do they fear your work so much?
Patricia Acioli – That you have to ask them. I do not know why they fear my work. I think that, really, I will not agree with you. I do not think the cops are afraid. I think they sell an image of my work, which is very convenient.
OSG – Who sells?
Patricia Acioli – This, I do not know.
OSG – Is it the press?
Patricia Acioli – No, no way. The news media. At least I never got into this situation, to be demonized by the press. I think that you report the facts, at least in regards to me.
OSG – But they fear they your work. Oh yes they do…
Patricia Acioli – This is a culture, right? This is very interesting, because when you fear someone, you’re afraid of them. You do not want to know, you do not know, you’re not interested. But no one says, for example, that I wake up at six o’clock in the morning—not just me, but the prosecutors and I. We go down to the battalions and give workshops, to explain how they should work, what they should do in these situations.
OSG – Returning to the acts of resistance. This in depth investigation that is happening, since these meetings, there are many police responding since 2001, 2002…is this due to these investigations?
Patricia Acioli – These investigations were not stopped. They were in progress. Now, is one person able to solve 7,000 investigations? Reading them one by one, examining? I already told you, only 4% of homicides of the state are solved. The other 96% are investigations. So the problem is much bigger than what we are ready to deal with. So, what happened is that the Public Ministry decided to do a really fine-toothed comb of an investigation, to comb through these specific situations of acts of resistance, and then take action, yes.
OSG – Concerning the work of death squads and militias, in your eleven years of work here in São Gonçalo, which is more widespread: death squads or militias?
Patricia Acioli – In the beginning, it was death squads, but they are the seedlings of the militias. Every death squad, the way that death squads were organized, ended up being the seedlings of the militias. This is not only here in our city, it is true across the state.
OSG – If a person is a witness to a crime, what advice would you give to them?
Patricia Acioli – Seek out the competent authority and report it. If you are afraid to go to the police station, go to the Public Ministry. Because this false idea that if we keep our mouths shut, we will be protected, is a lie. Because in reality, you will always be a threat, so if you represent a threat to another person they can also kill you. So the advice I give is to seek out a competent authority and speak. If you are afraid of the police, go to the Public Ministry.
OSG – In the cases that you are familiar with, people who went to police or the Public Ministry, do you think the state is prepared to give protection to these witnesses?
Patricia Acioli – Here we have 100% efficiency in terms of results. The state is not ready to give protection, no, but even without state protection that person will be more protected talking than in silence. Because when you stay in silence it is very simple: only I know what you know. The “I” is the killer, so if you die, your investigation, your death, will only be one more in the pile.
OSG – It’s because we have seen cases of witnesses who lost their lives, because of the lack of state protection…
Patricia Acioli – Here in São Gonçalo, never. Those who lost their lives here are those who voluntarily withdrew from protection. He went to the area where he should not have with his own legs. Currently, we have no case here in the Court that a witness has been murdered—with or without protection from the state. We have two who were murdered, the two…with the van it’s three…So the three who were murdered, all three were in place that they should not have been.