Tamil Nadu custodial deaths: Madras HC says evidence available to charge policemen with murder
The court said postmortem reports of Jayaraj and Bennix showed that they had suffered grievous injuries.
The Madras High Court on Tuesday observed that there was ample evidence to charge the policemen involved in the custodial deaths of a father and son in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district with murder, The News Minute reported. The court said postmortem reports of the two men showed that they had suffered grievous injuries.
The court said that there must be no delay in investigation into the custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix. “Jayaraj’s family believes justice will be delivered,” the bench said, according to News18. “Not a second should be wasted.” The court asked the Tamil Nadu government if the Tirunelveli Crime Branch can begin investigation till the Central Bureau of Investigation takes over the inquiry and asked for a response by Friday noon.
Meanwhile, the Kovilpatti judicial magistrate told the court that CCTV footage from June 19 at the Sathankulam police station was deliberately erased, the day Jayraj and Bennix were arrested, The New Indian Express reported.
“Pursuant to the court’s instructions, on June 28, 2020, I went to the Sathankulam police station and attempted to download the footage of the CCTV cameras with system officers deputed for the purpose,” the report submitted by the magistrate said. “However, I came to know that even though the hard disk of the cameras had enough storage space of 1TB, the settings of the same were programmed in such a manner that the data gets erased automatically. Especially, the footage starting from the date of occurrence was missing.”
The report added that a woman constable, who was witness to the incident, was “terrified” to reveal what was done to them in custody. “After much coaxing, she confirmed that the victims were repeatedly thrashed by the cops the whole night and that the blood of the victims can be found in the lathi and table situated in the station,” the magistrate said.
On Monday, the Madras High Court had initiated contempt proceedings against Deputy Superintendent of Police C Prathapan, Additional Deputy Superintendent of Police D Kumar and police constable Maharajan after a judicial magistrate alleged that they tried to obstruct his inquiry. “You cannot do anything to us,” constable Maharajan had said, according to the magistrate.
Amid anger over the custodial deaths, Thoothukudi’s Superintendent of Police Arun Balagopalan has been replaced by S Jeyakumar, according to NDTV.
The deaths of Jayaraj and his son Bennix have triggered massive outrage and renewed the debate about police brutality. The police took them into custody on June 19 for interrogation, as they had kept their mobile accessories shop open during the coronavirus lockdown in Thoothukudi. A case was filed against them for not following the curfew under lockdown, and they were sent to custody.
On June 22, Bennix complained of breathing problems and was admitted to a local government-run hospital. He died around 9 pm. Jayaraj, who was also hospitalised due to an illness, died the next day. Their family alleged that they were tortured in police custody.
Also read: Thoothukudi custodial deaths show urgent need to reform the lower judiciary – not just the police