WARNING — DISTRESSING CONTENT: A frantic search for a now-fired police chief nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” is underway after a video clip of an alleged deadly shakedown of a suspected drug dealer in Thai police custody caused outrage.
Four Thai police officers were charged with murder this week in connection with the incident, an alleged suffocation of a man in custody, which has been shared widely on social media.
Three other officers are still being sought in connection with the August 5 incident at their police station in the province of Nakhon Sawan, north of Bangkok, Police Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy national police spokesman, said.
They include former police colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon, who has the nickname “Jo Ferrari” because of his collection of expensive sports cars, Thai media reported.
Man and woman arrested over meth tablets
Allegations of police brutality and corruption are not rare in Thailand, but the leaked video showing the suspected drug dealer suffocating after officers placed plastic bags over his head in an alleged extortion effort stoked furore.
Police started investigating the case only after a well-known lawyer, Decha Kittiwittayanan, published an account of it on his Facebook page.
Decha said he had received a complaint from a junior policeman in Nakhon Sawan who said police had arrested two drug suspects, a 24-year-old man and his female companion, with more than 100,000 methamphetamine tablets.
The policemen first demanded 1 million baht (A$41,994) from the suspects, which they agreed to pay for their release, according to the account.
Bag allegedly placed over suspect's head to extort money
But the senior officer at the scene, Thitisan, demanded double that amount and ordered his subordinates to cover the male suspect’s head with a plastic bag and beat him until he agreed, the junior policeman said.
When the suspect died, Thitisan allegedly ordered his men to take the body to the hospital and tell the doctor the death was caused by a drug overdose.
The junior policeman said the woman was released but was told not to say anything about it and Thitisan paid the victim’s father to remain silent.
The initial police response to the outrage over the story posted by the lawyer was to transfer Thitisan to another job.
Police chief fired, home searched
On Tuesday (local time), however, a video clip of the incident was shared on the Facebook page of another lawyer, Sittra Biabanggerd, who said he had received it from a police officer at the Nakhon Sawan station.
It shows the male suspect in handcuffs being led into a room, his head covered with a black plastic bag.
He is then assaulted and thrown to the floor by officers who put more bags on his head. One of them appears to briefly kneel on him.
The man, identified by Thai media as Jeerapong Thanapat, then goes limp. Police try in vain to revive him with a jug of water and CPR.
“We are proceeding with this case, pursuing both criminal cases and disciplinary action,” police spokesman Kissana said on Wednesday.
Thitisan was fired from his role on Tuesday and his colonel’s mansion was searched on Wednesday.
Investigators found 13 luxury cars inside, BBC reported.
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