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Former Police Chief Among Three Arrested in Connection with Murder of Activist Marielle Franco

Counselor Rio de Janeiro Court of Audit Domingos Brazao exits Federal Police aircraft wearing handcuffs arrested Councilwoman Monica Benicio widow murdered Brazilian rights activist politician Marielle Franco banner Justice for Marielle
EVARISTO SA/AFP; Daniel Ramalho/AFP; Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Domingos Brazão exits Federal Police aircraft in handcuffs; Franco's widow, Monica Benicio, is interviewed

Franco had fought corruption as a member of the Rio de Janeiro City Council. The new arrestees include the city's former police chief.

Authorities in Brazil have made three more arrests in the 2018 murder of Black queer activist Marielle Franco — including a former Rio de Janeiro police chief who was once tasked with the investigation.

Four people had already been arrested in connection with Franco’s death, and one of them has agreed to a plea deal. The new arrests, which came Sunday, were of brothers Chiquinho and Domingos Brazão, who were once members of the Rio City Council, as was Franco, and Rivaldo Barbosa, the former chief of police, The New York Timesreports.

Police have recommended that Barbosa and Chiquinho Brazão be charged with homicide, while noting that Domingos Brazão cannot be formally charged yet because he is a court official. But the authorities say the three were the chief plotters of the murders of Franco and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, and they all were taken to a prison in Brasilia, according to The Guardian. The brothers had been planning a housing development that Franco opposed.

“It’s clear the crime was masterminded by the two brothers and meticulously planned by Rivaldo,” says a federal police report quoted by The Guardian. They all have claimed innocence, however.

Franco was elected to the Rio City Council in 2016; she was the first Black woman on the body. She fought corruption and gang violence in the city and took on paramilitary groups that harass and extort people in poor neighborhoods, known as favelas, like the one where she grew up. She and Gomes were gunned down in their car in March 2018 as they were leaving an event, the night after she had posted online about a Black man killed by police.

Those previously arrested include Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroza, both former military police officers who were arrested in 2019. Authorities have identified Lessa as the gunman. He has agreed to a plea deal, “meaning his confession could be used in the investigation,” the Times reports.

The latest arrests have “turned a spotlight on Rio’s brutish mafia underworld, where experts say besuited politicians and corrupt police investigators collude with highly trained assassins such as the one who murdered Franco and Gomes,” The Guardian notes.

“The state is permeated by organized crime,” Carolina Grillo, a security expert at Rio’s Fluminense Federal University, told the publication. “This case shows us that the presence of organized crime in Rio state’s public institutions is so powerful that it’s possible for a police officer to promise impunity to his accomplices.”

Since Marielle Franco’s death, her sister, Anielle Franco, has become a prominent activist against corruption and violence. She is now Brazil’s minister of racial equality. She discussed the arrests on a television program Sunday, the Times reports. “We are responding to political violence, to the favela residents who voted for Marielle, and to the women who courageously entered the political arena in a system that tells us this isn’t for us,” she said.

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