Police brief panel on torture case

Pol Col Thitisan Utthanaphon, centre, is taken into custody at the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok on Aug 26. (Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

Pol Gen Suchart Teerasawat, deputy chief of the national police, on Thursday briefed a House committee on the legal proceedings against Pol Col Thitisan Utthanaphon, the prime suspect in the case of the fatal torture of a drug suspect at Nakhon Sawan’s Muang police station last month.

Pol Gen Suchart, head of the investigation team, was speaking before the House committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights, chaired by Sira Jenjaka, a Bangkok MP of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.

Pol Gen Suchart told the committee that Pol Col Thitisan, former chief of the police station, and six of his subordinates arrested Chiraphong Thanapat, a 24-year-old drug suspect, in a sting operation.

An initial investigation into the matter found the arrest was lawful, he said.

Later on, when Pol Col Thitisan brought Chiraphong to a hospital, he told hospital workers that the drug suspect had lost consciousness during the arrest, Pol Gen Suchart said.

But this was not true because it has been verified that Chiraphong died of asphyxiation after Pol Col Thitisan ordered his subordinates to cover the man’s head with plastic bags during the interrogation, the deputy national police chief said.

Investigators will bring on another charge of giving false information to police against Pol Col Thitisan, Pol Gen Suchart told the committee.

However, police have found no evidence that Pol Col Thitisan extorted money from the drug suspect, he said.

Currently, the seven suspects have been charged with malfeasance, coercion, murder and torture, he said.

An autopsy conducted on Chiraphong at Sawanpracharak Hospital confirmed he died after he was suffocated, not a narcotics overdose.

Pol Col Thitisan allegedly ordered his subordinates to ensure that doctors record acute drug intoxication as the cause of Chiraphong’s death after the bags were placed over his head during questioning.

Pol Col Thitisan has denied allegations made against him in the case.

His denial stood in stark contrast to the remarks he made when he phoned in and spoke to reporters during a press conference on Aug 26.

The former police station chief, also known as “Joe Ferrari”, surrendered to police at the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok that evening.

During the press conference, he admitted ordering the partial suffocation of Chiraphong with plastic bags during interrogation, but said the motive was not to extort money from him.

The Lawyers Association of Thailand on Thursday called on the investigation team to reveal the details of the probe before forwarding the case to prosecutors.

In other news, police on Thursday raided Pol Col Thitisan’s condominium in Nakhon Sawan and seized powder that looked like drugs and paraphernalia. The powder was sent to a lab for further examination.

Pol Col Thitisan was suspended from the police pending an investigation, and a court warrant was issued for his arrest after a video clip posted on social media allegedly showed him in an interrogation room with a drug suspect being suffocated.

The clip made headlines, and sparked a storm of condemnation, prompting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to order the police to investigate.