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Homicide division to investigate possible summary executions by police in Rio de Janeiro

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro's police department said its homicide division will start investigating "resistance killings," or slayings by officers who say that victims died in shootouts while resisting arrest.

Police across Brazil have come under criticism for using the classification of "resistance killings" to justify what human rights activists allege are often summary executions. Last year, police in Rio registered 582 such deaths — a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

Rio police chief Fernando Veloso said Thursday that "resistance killings" will no longer be investigated by neighborhood precincts, but instead will be handled by the homicide division. That office will also be in charge of investigating death threats made against judges, public servants and journalists.

Police officials didn't respond to calls or an emailed request for more details about the change.

The decision came ahead of the dismissal on Friday of a police commander whose officers were implicated in the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy last week in the Palmeirinha slum. Nine officers already had been taken off duty in the case.

Police had initially issued a statement saying the youth, Alan de Souza Lima, and 19-year-old Chauan Jambre Cezario were shot "during a confrontation with police" and claimed two firearms were found on the teens.

However, a cellphone video emerged showing the two teens and another youth hanging out on the street, playing with the phone when they suddenly begin to run. A volley of gunshots rings out. The phone clatters to the ground but the video stays on, recording Lima's low moans and Cezario's prayers.

Officers are heard asking why the youths started running. "We were playing, sir," one of them responds.

Cezario survived, with a bullet still lodged in his chest.

The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other activists groups have long criticized Brazilian police as being too violent.

Human Rights Watch has estimated that some 11,000 people were killed by police between 2003 and 2009 in the country's two largest metropolises, Rio and Sao Paulo. A 2008 U.N. report said Brazilian police were responsible for a significant portion of the country's 48,000 slayings the year before.

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