BANGKOK: A former Thai police colonel nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” for his extravagant collection of luxury cars was sentenced with five subordinates on Wednesday to life in prison for the torture and killing of a drug suspect from whom they were trying to extort money.
Allegations of corruption and rough treatment of suspects by police in Thailand are not unusual. But the assault on the suspect on August 5 last year was captured on video, causing a public uproar when a lawyer who received it from a whistle-blower, a junior policeman, posted it on social media.
The video appears to show Col. Thitisan Utthanaphon, chief of the station in Nakhon Sawan province, north of Bangkok, directing other officers to assault the suspect, Jirapong Thanapat, after he was brought into a room hand-cuffed with a black plastic bag over his head.
The officers threw Jirapong, 24, to the floor and put more bags on his head. Then one of the officers appeared to briefly kneel on Jirapong until he went limp. After failed attempts to revive him, he was sent to a hospital.
The six defendants convicted of premeditated murder and employing torture or acts of cruelty and two lesser charges were initially given death sentences, but those were reduced to life in prison for the officers' efforts to revive the victim and compensate his family.
A seventh officer not in the room during the assault was sentenced to prison for five years, four months for abuse of power and extortion.
Police and officials from Thailand's Anti-Money Laundering Office seized assets from Thitisan worth about 131 million baht (USD 3.8 million). They included a mansion valued at 57 million baht (USD 1.7 million) and 24 cars valued at 70 million baht (USD 2 million). Media reports said the vehicles had been acquired under suspicious circumstances.
The lethal encounter occurred after police arrested Jirapong and his female companion, who allegedly possessed more than 100,000 methamphetamine tablets.
The police officers first demanded 1 million baht (USD 29,000) from the suspects, which they agreed to pay for their release, according to the account of the whistleblower, who was not named for his own safety.
However, Thitisan then demanded double that amount and ordered his subordinates to cover Jirapong's head with the plastic bag and beat him until he agreed, said the junior policeman.
He added that the arrested woman was released and told not to say anything about the incident, and that Thitisan paid the victim's father to remain silent.
The defendants were not in court but attended Wednesday's sentencing by video from the prison where they are being held, while the victims' parents were present.
His father, Jakkrit Klundee, said he thought the police officers should have restrained each other and that the family will seek compensation from the police department.
“It was hard to hear the details, the number of bags used, how they tightened them up until my son couldn't breathe,'' he told reporters. ''When we heard all of this, my wife was crying. I hope that they learned their lessons and will pay for what they did.”