Four Nakhon Sawan police officers have been arrested and warrants are out for three more for the torture killing of a drug suspect they allegedly were extorting.
Thirteen officers in all are believed to be involved in the killing of Jeerapong Thanapat, 24, on Aug. 6 at the Muang Nakhon Sawan police station. The incident was caught on security-camera video and went viral online late Tuesday, a day after police vowed to investigate a complaint from a fellow officer about the extortion and killing.
The couple had been arrested with 100,000 methamphetamine tablets on a bypass road in the province. Nakhon Sawan police acknowledged Jeerapong’s death in custody, but someone falsified the death certificate to say he died of a drug overdose.
The clip shows a man sitting on a chair, surrounded by four men in civilian clothes. They are in a room full of desks like one in a police or government office. A standing men covers the head of the seated drug suspect with a plastic bag. They beat him a few times while one of them is wrapping the bag around his neck and trying to keep his head down.
National police chief Pol. Gen. Suwat Jangyodsuk told a Tuesday night news conference that he believed the video was authentic. Shortly after, he suspended, then fired Pol. Col. Thitisan “Joe” Uttanapol, the Muang police chief and the officer accused of torturing Jeerapong to death.
The scandal began to unfold Aug. 22 when the complaint filed by Thitisan’s subordinate arrived at the National Polcie Office and a lawyer disclosed its existance on Facebook.
The complaint alleged that Thitisant had demanded 2 million baht from Jerapong, twice what the drug suspect had already agreed to to have the drug charge dropped. Unwilling to pay, Thitisan then suffocated Jeerapong. When the suspect died, the police chief ordered all the other officers to say he had overdosed, according to the complaint.
Jeerapong’s wife, told that her husband OD’d, was released without charge on condition she kept silent, the complaint alleged.
It’s not the first time in the headlines for Thitisan, who prefers to go by the nickname “Joe Ferrari”. In 2015, he was accused of stalking and using fellow police to follow a former girlfriend, actress Pichanak “May” Sakakorn, whom he had publicly proposed to after a brief relationship in 2014. She turned him down.
Deputy national police chief Pol. Gen. Suchart Teerasawat was put in charge of the criminal investigation, which is expected to move quickly given the video and pressure from the public as well as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Border and immigration police also have been alerted in case the other four named in warrants and the six persons of interest try to flee the country.
Forensic evidence will be hard to come by, however. Jeerapong’s body already has been cremated and his father had declined to press charges against the police citing his son’s pre-existing health problems.