Police have launched a manhunt for a former police station chief who allegedly killed a drug suspect while attempting to extort from him 2 million baht while in police custody, national police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk said yesterday.
Pol Col Thitisan Utthanaphon, formerly the superintendent of Muang police station in Nakhon Sawan, disappeared three days ago before a video clip of him committing torture and trying to extort money from the suspect was released on social media on Tuesday, said Pol Gen Jangyodsuk.
The clip made headlines and prompted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday to order the police to investigate the incident that reportedly led to the man’s death by suffocation.
The dead suspect was on Wednesday identified as 24-year-old Chiraphong Thanaphiphat.
The seven police allegedly involved in Chiraphong’s death have been dismissed from their positions and arrest warrants have been issued, said Pol Gen Jangyodsuk on Wednesday.
The suspects, five of whom have already been detained, now face charges for dereliction of duty, torture, and murder.
Four of the detained police have been identified as Pol Maj Rawirot Ditthong, who was the chief investigator of Muang district station.
Also identified were Pol Capt Songyot Khlainak, who was a deputy chief police investigator; Pol Sen Sgt Maj Wisut Bunkhiew; and Pol Sen Sgt Maj Suphakon Nimchuen.
The officers were all from the same station.
The fifth detained former officer is Pawikon Khammarew who is from Takhli district station.
The only two that remain at large are Pol Col Utthanaphon and Pol Lt Thoranin Matwanna, who was a deputy chief police investigator at Muang station.
“The police are seeking cooperation from their counterparts in neighbouring countries in attempts to locate Pol Col Utthanaphon in case he already has fled across the border,” said Pol Gen Jangyodsuk.
On Tuesday lawyer Sittha Biabangkerd posted the clip on his Facebook page in which a police officer putting a plastic bag over the head of a man (Chiraphong), who was wearing a yellow T-shirt.
Other police were present. The clip showed Chiraphong resisting.
The lawyer said he obtained the clip from a junior police officer who sought his help in forwarding the clip to the national police chief.
The junior officer asked the lawyer to follow up on the case before he and his fellow officers were killed, Mr Biabangkerd said.
After the Nakhon Sawan provincial court approved arrest warrants on Wednesday, police began searching locations where Pol Col Utthanaphon might have been, including his luxury house in Kannayao district of Bangkok, said Pol Gen Jangyodsuk.
Found at Pol Col Utthanaphon’s 60-million-baht house were 29 luxury cars worth more than 100 million baht in total, said a source.
Two Myanmar caretakers told police that Pol Col Utthanaphon usually stayed at the house only on weekends, mostly alone but sometimes with his girlfriend.
Immigration police at all border checkpoints have been alerted to the possibility of the suspect attempting to flee the country, said Pol Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang, chief of the Immigration Bureau.
Although all border checkpoints are closed due to the COVID-19 situation, cargo trucks are still allowed to cross the borders, Pol Lt Gen Chingduang said.
“The immigration police now seek cooperation from other security authorities in stepping up patrols along borders and at sea for fear the suspect may attempt to sneak out through a forest trail or by sea,” he said.
Meanwhile, state-run Sawanpracharak Hospital, which issued a death certificate for the dead drug suspect, have defended their finding that “methamphetamine poisoning” was the cause of death.
The hospital said it wasn’t a final conclusion as they are still waiting for blood test results to find out the exact levels of methamphetamine in his system.
The results are expected next week.
The hospital said that a forensic examination was conducted on 7th August after Chiraphong was referred from a private hospital to Sawanpracharak Hospital on 5th August.
Chiraphong died on 6th August, it said.
Sawanpracharak Hospital was informed by a private hospital that the man fell down and lost consciousness while he was running away from police who were chasing him during a drug crackdown.