Accused of theft, elderly black man is assaulted in hospital in Rio Grande do Sul and his wife, frightened, has a heart attack and dies; hospital denies aggression
By Marques Travae
I came across this report a few days ago and, honestly, I hope it’s not true. We know that sometimes it is true that facts and details can be exagerrated, but we also know that black Brazilians face the type of treatment described in this incident everyday, somewhere in this massive country. I felt the need to cover it because, besides the cruel treatment described, it is possible that it ended up resulting in someone’s death.
The story went as follows.
According to eyewitness reports, a 62-year-old black man was humiliated and assaulted by the staff at Dom João Becker Hospital in Gravataí, a city located in the Southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. The man was accused of stealing a cell phone and, in the middle of the confusion, his wife died.
Everaldo da Silva Fonseca was with his wife, Maria Gonçalves Lopes, who was interned at the unit. Hospital employees, at some point on Saturday morning (18), accused Fonseca of stealing a nursing assistant’s cell phone. This led to his reportedly being beaten with kicks and punches, verbally humiliated and expelled from the hospital.
Fonseca’s wife was in the hospital interned with liver problems. Having witnessed the whole scene, his wife, she became agitated and begged for hospital employees to stop assaulting her husband. Frightened, during the melee, she had a heart attack and died. For the couple’s family, the assault on Fonseca was racially motivated.
According to the hospital’s version of the story, “Around 4 am, there was an episode of suspected cell theft on the hospital premises, in which, unfortunately, due to circumstances, the family member was involved. However, the situation was promptly clarified. The suspicion was not due to a racial motive, nor was there racial aggression or injury as unduly speculated on social networks.”
In testimony to the website Giro de Gravataí, the couple’s son, Jonatas Lopes Fonseca, stated that hospital employees had even tried to find the cell phone with Maria Gonçalves, removing the cloths that the woman had used. Within minutes of the search, the cell phone that motivated the aggressions against Everaldo was actually located in another room of the health unit.
“After all that, they wanted to please me, they brought apples, bread and juice, as if that would ease the humiliation I went through and my wife’s life, I am destroyed inside”, reported Everaldo on the Alô Gravataí page.
Jonatas Lopes Fonseca, the couple’s son, stated in an interview with the Giro de Gravataí website that his father contacted him at about 3am early Sunday to report the assault her went through as well as the death of his mother. One has to imagine that receiving the report of both of details had to have been pretty difficult for the Fonseca son.
“They grabbed my father, in front of my mother, who was bedridden, gave him a bunch of kicks, punches. They did a lot of things to him, touched the things of mine here on the street. The nurse had the capacity to pick it up, go there where my mother was bedridden, lying on a bed, pick (things) up and turn over cloths all over to see if the cell phone wasn’t there,” he said.
According to Jonatas, after the cell phone was found, hospital staff apologized to his father. “But what’s the use of apologizing after they made my dad feel ashamed in front of everyone. They even called my father black, a security guard, that’s racism,” he said. “And my poor mother ended up dying, screaming for help so that no one did this to my father. She died, at 3 am.”
Disputing the story of his mother’s death happening during and due to the chaos and assault, Dom João Becker hospital told a different version of the incident. The establishment claimed that Jonata’s mother was sleeping at the time of the confusion, and that she died on Sunday morning.
“At the time of the fact, the patient was sleeping and was not aware of what happened. The death occurred around 9:50 am due to natural causes, due to the severity of a pre-existing chronic disease, with no plausible relationship of cause and consequence between the events, as attested by all the assistance registration documents,” says the hospital, in a note.
The sênior Fonseca registered a police report of the assault with the local Civil Police and, as noted above, the hospital, forwarded a note to the Giro de Gravataí website stating that “an investigation will be opened to investigate the allegations of aggression”.
According to Márcio Zaquelo, police chief of the 1st Civil Police Station of Gravataí where the case was registered, the investigation of the facts is just in its initial phase. Zaquelo says that those responsible for the hospital have yet to officially offer testimony of the incident and that it is looking for witnesses and with images from the establishment’s câmeras having been requested. “We’re going very cautiously, we are at the beginning of the investigation.”
Also commenting on the sitation on Monday afternoon (20), the couple’s daughter, Joyce Fonseca, stated that her family would prove the truth of the facts. “Let them (the hospital) say what they want. The way she died, no one deserves it,” she said, pointing that other patients had witnessed the incident. Her father, Everaldo da Silva Fonseca, is due to testify on Wednesday (22).
Below is the full note from Dom João Becker Hospital:
Regarding the events that took place on the premises of Dom João Becker Hospital in the early hours of last Saturday, 04/18, involving a patient’s family member, we emphasize that, on the morning of this Sunday, 04/19, an internal investigation was initiated to investigate the event, with based on the Code of Conduct in force in all hospitals of Santa Casa de Misericórdia in Porto Alegre.
Thus, based on the elements found so far, it is worth informing:
- The patient was taken to Dom João Becker hospital by SAMU on the morning of 4/17, in a serious condition due to pre-existing illness. She received all necessary medical care for the clinical condition.
- Around 4 am, there was an episode of suspected cell theft on the hospital premises, in which, unfortunately, due to circumstances, the family member was involved. However, the situation was promptly clarified. The suspicion was not due to a racial motive, nor was there racial aggression or injury as improperly speculated on social networks;
- At the time of the fact, the patient was sleeping and was not aware of what happened. The death occurred around 9:50 am due to natural causes, due to the severity of a pre-existing chronic disease, with no plausible relationship of cause and consequence between the events, as attested by all the assistance registration documents;
- The directors of Dom João Becker Hospital deeply regrets the event, which is totally out of alignment with its ethical and conduct standards and informs that those involved were removed from their duties until the conclusion of the investigations.
Finally, we inform that the investigation, for further details of the facts, is still ongoing and the results will be released in due course.
Dom João Becker Hospital
Gravataí, April 19, 2020.
This story appears to be a classic example of “he said, she said” or that of two conflicting reports of the same incident. On the one hand, the daughter sounds very secure that her father’s version of the story will prevail. As there are witnesses to the incident, hopefully all of this will come out. While it’s not impossible that the woman could have died from a heart attack caused by the confusion, she was actually interned due to liver problems and a test will most likely be able to assess what the actual cause of death was.
The hospital also seems quite confident that the situation didn’t go down in the manner described by the older Fonseca. Besides the witnesses, and an autopsy, I’m quite sure security cameras located on the premises will corroborate which of the two stories is closer to the truth.
As the old saying goes, there’s one version, a second version of a story and then there’s the truth. If the elder Fonseca’s version of the story is true, I hope the hospital is held accountable for the absurd treatment he received. I wasn’t there, but I do wonder why is that it was automatically assumed that a 62-year old black would have stolen a cell phone instead of first thinking that said item was simply misplaced. So often in Brazil, when Afro-Brazilians enter establishments, they immediately are labeled as suspects for theft, robbery, assault, etc. Businesses and institutions are always quick to deny any racist intent with the typical responses when such things happen.
I will acknowledge that such incidents aren’t always motivated by racism, but also given the fact that these types of things do consistently happen to Afro-Brazilians, often with reasonable evidence of racist motivation, the question again remains: If this incident happened the way Fonseca said it did, can we say without a shadow of a doubt that this would not have happened had it been a 62-year old white man? We can never say, which is why these sorts of scenarios are often so hard to judge.
With information from Sul21 and Nação Z