Two São Paulo military police officers suspected of lying about their roles in the beating death of 18-year-old trans woman Laura Vermont are walking free on bail — and now trans advocates worldwide are demanding justice in an online petition.
Ailton de Jesus, 43, and Diego Clemente Mendes, 22, claimed in a police report that Vermont had died June 19 from head trauma after stealing the officers' military police car and slamming her head into the dashboard when she hit a condominium wall. But when Vermont's parents came forward to state that their daughter did not know how to drive, civil police authorities became suspicious of the officers' account, reports Brazilian human rights site Bridge.
The day after Vermont's death, Jesus and Mendes were arrested by civil police for loose procedural fraud and perjury.
Evidence quickly mounted against the military police officers as local authorities investigated. In the intial report filed by the pair, the officers stated that they had not harmed Vermont when responding to a 4 a.m. call to break up an alleged altercation between Vermont and another trans person after a party. But the men changed their story when a medical examination revealed that Vermont had been shot in the arm. The two then claimed they had indeed fired non-lethal shots at Vermont because she was aggressive. The exam also revealed she had sustained bruises not only on her head, but also on her torso and legs.
Further, a 19-year-old "eyewitness" presented by Jesus and Mendes two hours after their altercation with Vermont appeared to be coached to emphasize that he had not heard any gunshots fired, according to Bridge. Other witnesses allegedly saw the two officers speaking to the man for an hour and a half before he was brought forward to offer his witness statement.
When civil police then visited the location where Jesus and Mendes claimed Vermont had fallen, they reportedly did not find bloodstains. A second witness claimed he'd seen unidentified officers beating Vermont — possibly after Jesus and Mendes had detained her in their police car and she escaped, speculate civil police — while another man captured a cellphone video of a bloody and disoriented Vermont running east down a São Paulo street, before the time that Jesus and Mendes claim she stole their car.
And in a final discrepancy, Vermont's sister Rejane Laurentino Araújo Neves told Bridge that Jesus and Mendes's claim that they took her dying sister to the hospital was false, as family members were the ones who tried to save Vermont's life. Her parents explained to Brazil human rights newspaper Free Reporters that they had rushed Vermont to a hospital after a neighbor informed them that she had been placed in a garbage pile two blocks from their home.
Once Jesus and Mendes were arrested June 20 for lying in their police report, their "eyewitness" recanted his story, saying that the two had "trained" him to make his account of Vermont's murder sound consistent, and had threatened violence and legal action if he did not cooperate. Mendes then said that Jesus had threatened him, too, if he didn't agree to comply with telling a fabricated account of Vermont's death.
A week after the trans teen died in the emergency room from head trauma, Jesus and Mendes were released upon paying minimum bail on June 26. According to Judge Antonio Maria Patino Zorz's order, he decided to release them, in part, because they did not appear to be "criminals," notes Bridge.
An online petition demanding that Brazil's military police thoroughly investigate Jesus and Mendes's role in Vermont's death, as well as provide sensitivity training to police around trans and gender-nonconforming citizens, began circulating July 2. It currently has gathered more than 41,000 signatures from Brazil, the U.S., South Africa, Japan, Norway, Iceland, and many other countries. At 45,000 signatures, the petition will be presented to São Paulo's military police officials.
In April, a case of alleged military police brutality against trans woman Verônica Bolina also stirred international outrage when pictures of her disfigured face surfaced online. Despite the photo evidence showing her bloody and brutalized in torn clothes at the feet of military police in an all-male prison where she was held, Bolina initially claimed the officers had not harmed her in a videotaped statement. But upon speaking with her public defender, Bolina claimed that statement, which allegedly included her directly saying she was not tortured by police, was coerced from her by a promise of a reduced prison sentence.
Notably, Brazil has become a hotspot in the global epidemic of fatal violence that faces transgender women. Last year's Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorated a record high of 59 trans women murdered in Brazil within one year. That striking number may be due, in part, to the fact that Brazilian media reports more often on anti-trans violence than media in many other countries worldwide.