President Jair Bolsonaro defended Brazil's federal highway police Monday after officers were accused of asphyxiating to death a man they forced into the trunk of their patrol car in a traffic stop gone awry.
Brazil was shocked last Wednesday by eyewitness videos that showed police putting 38-year-old Genivaldo de Jesús Santos into the hatchback trunk of their SUV with what appeared to be a teargas canister emitting a thick cloud of white smoke.
Officials in the northeastern state of Sergipe, where the incident occurred, said an autopsy found Santos, whose family says he suffered from schizophrenia, died of asphyxiation.
"I regret what happened," but the Federal Highway Police (PFR) "do an exceptional job," said Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has cultivated close ties with the police and military.
"Justice will be done in this case, beyond a doubt. We all want that," the far-right leader told a news conference.
But the case should be handled "without exaggeration, and without pressure from the news media, who always take a side: that of the criminals," he added.
Video from the scene in the city of Umbaúba shows officers pinning Santos to the ground, then forcing him into the back of their car and tossing a smoking canister inside.
"They're going to kill him!" a bystander shouted.
As Santos screamed and kicked frantically, the officers held down on the door until his legs, which were trapped outside, went limp.
The federal highway police said Santos had become "aggressive," leading officers to use "lower-impact immobilisation techniques."
The officers involved have been suspended, and prosecutors have opened both criminal and civil investigations in the case.
The death triggered outrage in Brazil and abroad.
Human Rights Watch called it "deeply disturbing" and urged a "prompt, thorough and independent investigation."