A Thai police chief accused of torturing and killing an alleged drug dealer while in custody, allegedly in an attempt to extort tens of thousands of pounds, was arrested following a manhunt.
Thitisan Utthanaphon, 39, who has been removed from his post as superintendent of the Muang police station in Nakhon Sawan, north of Bangkok, is charged with attempting to extract 2 million baht (£ 44,463) from the suspect. He disappeared days before a video of the incident went viral on social media, but was detained by police on Thursday.
As police searched Thitisan’s home this week, Thai media showed images of his vast luxury estate, including a collection of expensive sports cars. He reportedly owns 29 cars worth more than 100 million baht (£ 2.2 million), earning him the nickname “Jo Ferrari.”
At a press conference held after his arrest, Thitisan, who was called to speak to the media, admitted to using violence during questioning, but said he had only been trying to obtain information about possible criminal activities. “I must testify that I had no intention of killing him. My intention was to work, work for the people and prevent people’s children from becoming addicted to drugs, ”he said.
Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy spokesperson for the Royal Thai Police, said two other officers had been arrested Thursday in connection with the case and five others were arrested on Wednesday. “Disciplinary actions have also been taken against those seven policemen,” he said.
In his comment, Thitisan said: “For my subordinates, I take everything responsibly [for what they did] because I ordered them. They have nothing to do with this. They tried to stop me. I take full responsibility. “
He denied suggestions that he had been trying to extort money, stating: “We did it because it is for our work. Money is not involved. “He added,” Not once in my life have I been corrupted by the police. “
A recording of the interrogation. shows an officer placing several plastic bags over the head of a handcuffed man. Then they push the man to the ground. Later, the police try to revive him by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and pouring water on his face, but are unsuccessful.
The man has been named by Thai media as Jeerapong Thanapat.
When Jeerapong died, Thitisan allegedly ordered officers to tell doctors that the death was caused by a drug overdose, according to an account of the incident posted on Facebook by a prominent lawyer, Decha Kittiwittayanan, who said he had been contacted by intermediaries for at least once. anonymous whistleblower.
Officers had tried to report the incident internally, Decha told Thai media, but no action was taken. They shared their stories with him because they wanted the story to be made public and forwarded to the national police commissioner, he said. “They made complaints in various places. They made complaints to the local media, few [well known] Facebook pages and supervisors, but nothing was done, ”he said.
The images were also sent to a different attorney, reportedly by a junior officer who wanted the matter investigated. It was widely shared on social media, sparking public outrage and calling for reforms.
Thai police are already facing mounting criticism for their use of force, including rubber bullets, to control recent anti-system protesters in Bangkok. The response to recent protests has been disproportionate, according to human rights groups, who also warn that the case involving Jeerapong is far from isolated.
“This is not the first death in custody in this country. It’s just one that has been caught on camera, ”said Pornpen Kongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, a human rights group.
“Trust in the police among the public is down. This is yet another reminder of the urgent need to end police impunity and for the police force to demonstrate to the public, who pays their wages, who works for them, ”said Pornpen.
Human Rights Watch has said that the case should be a wake-up call for the Thai police and that an independent investigation was needed. “Successive Thai governments have a long history of failing to ensure accountability for even the most appalling police abuses against people in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism