Four Thai police officers, including Colonel Thitisan Uttanapol, are currently under investigation by the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok after a video surfaced of the officers accidentally murdering a drug suspect in a botched attempt to extort him out of 2 million baht (roughly $60,000 US dollars).
Made public by celebrity lawyer Decha Kittiwittayanan, an investigation is now underway. All four officers involved have been arrested following public uproar over video of the incident after it was shared on Facebook.
The altercation took place in Nakhon Sawan, a province just north of Bangkok. The video showed the suspected drug dealer suffocating under a plastic bag that the officers placed over his head in an effort to extort him.
Colonel Thitisan Uttanapol, one of the officers involved in the incident, was very well-known in the area, nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” because of his collection of expensive sports cars. His collection is rumored to include a Lamborghini limited-edition Aventador LP 720-4 50th Anniversary Special, one of only 100 of which were produced in the entire world.
According to Kittiwittayanan and Deputy National Thai Police Spokesperson Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, the officers were questioning the 24-year-old suspect and a woman with him about potential drug offenses and possession of over 100,000 methamphetamine tablets when the pair agreed to pay 1 million baht in extortion fees in order to be released.
The conflict escalated when Col. Thitisan Uttanapol put a plastic bag over the suspect’s head in order to intimidate him into doubling the money to 2 million baht, accidentally killing him in the process – all shown in the video. After kneeling on the suspect’s neck, police tried to revive the victim with CPR to no avail. Thai officers have since identified the victim as Jeerapong Thanapat.
The Bangkok Post states that Col. Thitisan Uttanapol then told the other officers to mark his cause of death as a drug overdose and release the woman he was with from their custody in exchange for keeping silent about the incident. Later, Thitisan reportedly paid off the victim’s father as well. One of the officers involved then lodged a complaint and the investigation began.
“We are proceeding with this case, pursuing both criminal cases and disciplinary action,” the police spokesman said.
The initial police response was to simply transfer the officers to other posts, which prompted another lawyer, Sittra Biabanggerd, to post the now widely circulated video of the incident, which he says he received from a Nakhon Sawan station police officer.
“Some police officers filed a complaint against the superintendent because they could not accept his behavior,” said General Wissanu Prasartthong-osoth, inspector-general of the Royal Thai Police. “The commander of the police station, Pol Maj-General Rapeepong Sukpaiboon, has been tasked with leading the investigation.”
Allegations of police brutality have been rampant in Thailand ever since the police force started aggressively dispelling any and all street protests dissatisfied with the Bangkok government, but the footage from the recently released video has sparked public outrage.
“This case of police torture and murder is shocking,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Associated Press. “But this is not the first case and it is unlikely to be the last case until and unless the police conduct serious interrogations and investigations and leave no stones unturned.”
According to the Associated Press, small-scale corruption and bribes are common in Thailand, where the officers are paid poorly. Just last week, a whistleblower reporting on the corruption of his colleagues in the police force was shot dead three times at point-blank range in broad daylight outside of his home.