Thai Cop in Custody-Torture Case May Be Tried Outside Home Jurisdiction

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai Cop in Custody-Torture Case May Be Tried Outside Home Jurisdiction Thitisan Utthanaphon, a former Thai police colonel, is interrogated after being accused of torturing and killing a drug suspect in Nakhonsawan, at the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, Aug. 26, 2021.
[Royal Thai Police Handout via Reuters]

A Thai cop and six of his colleagues who allegedly suffocated a suspect to death may be tried at a special court outside the province where he worked, an investigator said, as Thailand’s justice system faces a reckoning over its failure to punish corrupt policemen.

Moving the case would ensure there was no favoritism, a human rights expert said, amid a public outcry over the way the case was handled. Police first tried to suppress the incident, local media claimed, and in a highly irregular move, the accused cop was allowed to defend his actions to the media when he surrendered after being on the run.

Pol. Col. Anek Taosupab, deputy chief of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), said he would submit a request to the Nakhonsawan provincial court asking that the case against the now former officer, Thitisan Utthanaphon, and his colleagues be moved to Bangkok.

“We will request to transfer [the case] to the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases on Sept. 6 and will place them under custody in one of Bangkok’s prisons,” Anek told BenarNews.

Thitisan was police chief of Muang district in Nakhonsawan province, which is 155 miles north of Bangkok. His co-accused officers worked with him in the district station.

A video posted online last week showed Thitisan and his colleagues allegedly covering a drug suspect’s face with six layers of plastic bags and demanding a U.S. $60,700 bribe, during an interrogation.

Anek said a hospital had confirmed in its final autopsy report that the suspect died of suffocation. The policemen were charged with malfeasance and murder by means of torture – the latter charge carries the death penalty.

“This case is not hard to solve because there is CCTV footage as evidence,” Anek said.

Thitisan, the 39-year-old former police colonel, is also being investigated by the anti-corruption authorities over his reported assets of 230 million baht ($7.02 million).

The former cop, nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” because of his fondness for luxury sports cars, possesses at least 29 cars, including a Lamborghini, and owns a luxury home in Bangkok on a 2-acre lot.

‘Police violated the laws’

A human rights expert, meanwhile, said Anek’s request to transfer the case would be a good move, because, as local media claimed, Thitisan was romantically involved with the daughter of his now-former boss – the commander of the 6th Police Regional Bureau who oversees eight provinces, including Nakhonsawan.

A case transfer “is likely a good thing because that would keep the suspects away from receiving aid from local authorities,” Chamnan Chanreung, a former president of Amnesty International, told BenarNews.

“Keeping him away from his girlfriend’s father will reduce the chances of Thitisan getting unlawful help.”   

As it is, the case points to the many problems with the country’s judicial system, said Nuttakorn Vititanon, an academic at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University.

“The case of ‘Superintendent Jo’ reflects the flaws in the country’s big picture of justice. The police violated the laws,” Nuttakorn, a lecturer at the university’s Faculty of Humanity and Social Science, told BenarNews.

A Thai rights group, the Cross Cultural Foundation, said the police investigation must be transparent and free from interference.

“This is not the first death in custody in this country. It is just one that has been caught on camera,” Pornpen Kongkachonkiet, director of the foundation, said in a statement last week.

“Trust in the police among the public is at rock bottom. This is yet another reminder of the urgent need for an end to police impunity and for the police force to demonstrate to the public – who pays their salaries – that they work for them.”

‘Embarrassing and unbelievable’

The way the Thitisan case has been handled so far has not inspired trust, going by several comments on social media.

Thais have criticized the police for ignoring the custodial death for almost three weeks after it happened Aug. 5. It was only after only after an attorney from a pro-bono lawyers group posted the clip of the alleged torture on his Facebook page on Aug. 24 that the police decided to take action. 

Many Thais were further incensed when television images showed junior police officers saluting Thitisan while he was being escorted after surrendering to his boss. The former district police had evaded a manhunt for two days.

Then, to many citizens’ shock, the national police chief Suwat Changyodsuk during a news conference referred to Thitisan by his nickname “Jo,” and proceeded to allow him to talk to reporters by putting him on speaker phone.

That gave the former cop a platform to portray the alleged enhanced interrogation of the drug suspect as a public duty to prevent Thai youths from becoming addicts.

Prajak Kong, a political scientist, was one of many on social media who drew attention to Thitisan being allowed to defend himself to journalists.

“I would like to ask if ordinary people were photographed as having tortured others to death, … [would] police set up a stage for him to sit and interview reporters? …This is embarrassing and unbelievable,” Prajak said on Twitter.

A retired senior police officer said the National Police Bureau must be decentralized.

“There must be an all-out revamp, abolishing the central commands. Instead local police should report to elected administrations,” Songsak Thititarawat, a former station chief in Payao province, told BenarNews.

“It would reduce office politics, the struggle for promotion and internal rivalry in the National Police Bureau.”

Until such a time, it is unlikely the police would turn on one of their own, a policeman who asked not to be named because he wanted to protect his privacy, told BenarNews.

 “Tigers won’t eat tigers’ meat.”


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