A fugitive police chief wanted in Thailand for the fatal beating of an arrestee has surprised friend and foe by giving a press conference in front of an audience of millions after his surrender. In the interview, supervisor Thitisan Utthanaphon (39) admitted that although he had mistreated the suspect, he believes that murder, extortion or a conspiracy are far from the case. “I was trying to get information from the suspect with the aim of killing the drug cartel,” he said.
Thai police opened a manhunt earlier this week for the police chief and six colleagues after a shocking video of a drug suspect’s arrest surfaced on social media. 24-year-old Jeerapong Thanapat and his girlfriend were arrested in early August on suspicion of smuggling 100,000 methamphetamine pills.
The interrogation at the police station quickly got completely out of hand. When the twenty-something refused to pay a doubling of the bribe, the police chief ordered his colleagues to pull a bag over his head and strangle the detainee.
Arrogance and blinkers
Police Chief Thitisan Utthanaphon admits he was involved in this torture. In a very unusual press conference organized by Thai police in Bangkok, Utthanaphon answered questions from reporters about the drama. According to the chief, it would not be torture or murder but an ‘accident’. “I had no intention of killing him,” Utthanaphon said. “I was doing my job and trying to prevent our people’s children from becoming addicted to drugs.”
According to the BBC, he said it was the first time he had ever treated a suspect in this way. There was also no question of corruption or extortion, according to Utthanaphon. “For my subordinates, I take full responsibility for what they did because I ordered them. They have nothing to do with this. They tried to stop me.” Utthanaphon denied allegations that he had tried to extort the suspect. “Money is not an issue here. Never in my police life have I been bribed.”
That the executive was given the opportunity to wipe his street clean in front of an audience of millions is upsetting to many people in Thailand. “Successive Thai governments have a long history of failing to hold accountable for even the most heinous police crimes against people in custody,” Brad Adams, Asia director at human rights organization Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian. “Public trust in the police is at an all-time low,” adds human rights organization Cross-Cultural Foundation. “This just underlines why police immunity must be ended as a matter of urgency.”
He told reporters that Thailand’s national police chief, Suwat Jangyodsok, gave the green light for the press conference because he thought he could still save the force’s honor this way. Critics say it underscores the arrogance and blinders that have characterized the Thai police for years.
Thitisan Utthanaphon, who has since been arrested, is charged in this case with assault, conspiracy and involvement in fatal torture. Footage of the shocking incident has been viewed millions of times around the world. Earlier this week, the police searched the luxury estate of Utthanaphon in Bangkok, where 13 expensive cars were seized.
The now apprehended Thitisan Utthanaphon is charged in this case with assault, conspiracy and being involved in fatal torture. Footage of the shocking incident has been viewed millions of times around the world. Earlier this week, police searched Utthanaphon’s luxury estate in Bangkok, seizing thirteen expensive automobiles.
The man, who is nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” because of his huge collection of expensive racing cars, has been in controversy before. For example, in 2015, he was accused of stalking his ex-girlfriend and allegedly abusing his power in the process, Thai media write.