TN custodial deaths: Cops were intimidating, says Magistrate's report
A team of court staff, led by the Judicial Magistrate of Kovilpatti, has been harassed and threatened by police personnel at Sathankulam station in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district, a report filed by the judicial officer before the Madras High Court has revealed. Last week, Jayaraj and Benicks, a father-son duo, died after custodial torture at the station and the magistrate was at the station to hold an inquiry.
According to the report, when Judicial Magistrate M.S. Bharathidasan entered the station at 12.45 pm on June 28, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) D. Kumar and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) C. Prathaban cared little and did nothing to usher him in. “They didn’t even properly salute,” the report said. When the Magistrate sought case details of the father-son duo, the ASP ‘yelled’ at his subordinates in a disrespectful and unprofessional manner, in a way to threaten the Magistrate, the report said.
Subsequently, when the Magistrate, with the help of technicians, tried to recover CCTV footage from the station, he could not find any footage on the hard disk, despite it having a storage capacity of 1 TB.
Later, the Magistrate started to record the statements of eyewitnesses, who had been present in the station during the incident. When the Magistrate interacted with constable Maharajan, he did not answer properly to any questions. Later, the Magistrate had called head constable Revathi to record her statements.
As she was scared to speak, the Magistrate deployed the court staff in front of the station for her protection. Despite that, the policemen, who had been present outside the station, continued to disturb the proceedings by bullying the court staff and had tried to listen in on Revathi’s statement, Bharathidasan said in the report.
In her statement, Revathi told the magistrate that the father-son duo was beaten the whole night, and there were bloodstains on lathis and the table on the first floor. Her statement was video-recorded. “As she was frightened, we gave her time to relax and we printed her statement,” the Magistrate said in the report.
In order to recover evidence, Bharathidasan had asked police personnel to surrender their lathis. After much reluctance, they one after the other, surrendered their lathis. “During the process, one constable, when asked for his lathi, jumped over the staircase and fled the station,” Bharathidasan said.
When the Magistrate asked Maharajan to surrender his lathi, the constable first said he had kept it in his native place. Later, Maharajan said the lathi was in his house at the police quarters. Finally, the constable had verbally abused the Magistrate saying “you cannot pluck anything.”
As it was late night and the situation was unfavorable for the conduct of inquiry, the Magistrate had to leave the station. But, when he asked Revathi to sign her confession statement, she denied and said she was scared of the consequences.
However, the Magistrate managed to make her sign the statement after assuring her of proper protection. Based on the report, the Madras High Court has initiated criminal contempt proceedings against ASP D. Kumar, DSP C. Prathaban and constable Maharajan.
The High Court also ordered that protection be provided to head constable Revathi.
In an unprecedented order, the revenue authorities had been asked to take over the police station after transfer of senior officers and appointment of a new SP.