The Crime Branch and Criminal Investigation Department have arrested five Tamil Nadu police personnel on charges of murder after the alleged custodial killing of a father and son in Thoothukudi last month, ANI reported on Thursday. The arrests came soon after the CB-CID altered the first information report against six people to include charges of murder, The Hindu reported.
The five policemen were identified as Sub-Inspectors Raghu Ganesh and Balakrishnan, Inspector Shridhar, and constables Murugan and Muthuraj. The Tamil Nadu government had transferred the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation on June 28 after approval from the High Court. It had asked the CB-CID to take over the case from Thoothukudi Police until the CBI took charge, according to NDTV.
The CB-CID modified both FIRs – one each for the death of the father Jeyaraj, and the son Bennix – to include murder charges against two sub inspectors, two constables and two other individuals. Earlier, the Thoothukudi district police had only registered a case of suspicious deaths under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday also directed the police to send an official, who is an eyewitness in the case, on paid leave, according to ANI. South Zone Inspector General S Murugan told the news agency that the witness will be provided security cover.
The court had observed on Tuesday that there was ample evidence to charge the policemen involved in the custodial deaths with murder. The court had said that postmortem reports of the two men showed that they had suffered grievous injuries.
The deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix triggered massive outrage across the country and renewed a debate about police brutality. On June 19, the Thoothukudi Police took Jayaraj and his son Bennix into custody for interrogation as they had kept their mobile accessories shop open during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. A case was filed against them for not following the curfew under lockdown. They were later sent to the Kovilpatti sub-jail.
Relatives of the two victims accused the police of assaulting them in custody. On June 22, Bennix complained of breathing problems and was admitted to a local government-run hospital. He later died at the facility. Jayaraj, who had also been admitted due to an illness, died the next day.
On Wednesday, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to Tamil Nadu’s Director General of Police JK Tripathy and Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police Arun Balagopalan over the deaths. The NHRC said that the reply to the notice must include the inquest report, postmortem examination report, medical treatment record, magisterial inquiry report and health screening report of both victims. It added that the reply must be submitted within six weeks.
On June 25, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter. The bench of Justices PN Prakash and B Pugalendi asked the police to submit a report along with a video of the autopsy. On June 29, the High Court 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.