Thai police may drag peaceful student demonstrators out of their houses at night, but murdering fellow officers get a chauffeur from outside Pattaya and a news conference to spin public opinion.
That’s how the latest chapter in the saga of “Joe Ferrari,” the former Muang Nakhon Sawan police chief who surrendered Thursday and admitted to suffocating a drug suspect to death, which was caught on video. Despite assurances from top police brass that Thitisan Utthanaphon would be treated like any other homicide suspect, police continued to treat him with the deference his stripped police colonel title previously demanded.
Torture and murder suspects typically don’t aren’t afforded the opportunity to make their case in the court of public opinion before even being arraigned. But there was national police chief Pol. Gen. Suwat Jangyodsuk – moments after promising to “punish all wrongdoers” – giving Thitsan the floor (via a mobile phone) to put out his version of the truth behind the death of 24-year-old Jeerapong Thanapat, who had been arrested with his wife with 100,000 methamphetamine tablets.
A complaint filed by one of Thitisan’s subordinates alleged the Muang police chief was pressuring Jeerapong to cough up 2 million baht to escape prosecution. When he died, Thitsan told his minions to say Jeerapong died of a drug overdose, falsified the death certificate and let the victim’s co-conspiring wife go free, provided she remained silent.
To hear Thitisan tell it, however, he was an unfortunate saint.
Sure, Thitisan admitted Jeerapong died at his hands, but it wasn’t intentional, which undoubtedly is true is dead men can’t pay bribes. But the ex-cop denied he was extorting the drug suspect. Seeing photos of around one kilogram of crystal methamphetamine and 20,000 ya ba pills on Jeerapong’s phone, Thitisan said it began pressuring the suspect for more information on a larger drug network.
He tortured the suspect in custody “to protect the people of Nakhon Sawan” from the scourge of drugs, he pleaded.
Of course, this was the first and only time he’d ever used illegal tactics during an interrogation and was never involved in corruption, Thitsan said.
Despite tying Jeerapong’s hand and covering his head with six bags, Thitisan claimed he thought the victim had only passed out in shock due to drug use and lack of sleep. He said officers brought him to a hospital after attempting CPR.
Police said they’ve still not concluded whether Jeerapong’s torture was part of extortion efforts.
Thitisan’s surrender came after he called Pol. Maj. Gen. Ekarak Limsangkat, deputy commander of Provincial Police Region 6, and claimed he was so upset he wanted to kill himself. Central Investigation Bureau police wanted to arrest the fugitive where he was hiding out in Saensuk Subdistrict, outside Pattaya in Chonburi, but he was allowed to be driven to CSD headquarters to turn himself in.
The arrest of “Joe Ferrari”, Thitisan’s preferred moniker due to his love of fast cars obtained through questionable means, capped two days of arrests. Seven officers in all are now behind bars, although investigators said another six may be brought in later.
Also arrested were chief inspector Pol. Maj. Rawirot Ditthon, deputy chief inspector Pol. Capt. Songyot Khlainak, Pol. Sr. Sgt. Maj. Wisut Bunkhiew and Pol. Sr. Sgt. Maj. Suphakon Nimchuen of Muang Nakhon Sawan police station, and Pawikon Khammarew who of Takhli police station. Pol. Lt. Thoranin Matwanna was captured Thursday.
They have been charged malfeasance causing damage to another person, colluding with five people or more in the coercion of another person, and collusion in killing another person by torture.