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Tuticorin custodial death: Witness intimidated, CCTV footage erased, says Magistrate’s letter to HC

Despite the widespread outrage over the alleged death of Jayaraj and Bennix in Police custody in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin, the cops at the police station refused to cooperate with the Magistrate who had gone there for investigation. 

A three-page report by the Magistrate to the Madras High Court registrar has revealed that the cops were lax in their response and even verbally abused the official.

During his visit to the Sathankulam station on June 28, Kovilpatti Magistrate MS Bharathidasan, claims in a report that his presence was not acknowledged or welcomed from the very time he entered the station with his staff. The station visit was meant to record the statements of police officers and gather crucial evidence.

“ADSP D Kumar and DSP Prathapan who were there failed to salute or acknowledge my presence. D Kumar exhibited a muscle-flexing kind of body language and when asked for case-related documents he disrespectfully addressed the other cops and asked them to bring it,” reads the report. 

However, there was a female cop in the station who is an eyewitness in this case. She divulged the information only after initially expressing serious apprehension and reluctance. 

The female cop has revealed that the father-son duo was beaten through the night, adding that the lathis (batons) and tables in the station had blood stains on them. She also urged the magistrate to confiscate these objects before the evidence is destroyed. 

The Magistrate’s report states that the lady cop feared about the repercussions and backlash she would have to face from her colleagues for testifying in this case. She had also requested the Magistrate to not reveal her identity or that she had given statements about the June 19 incident. On the order of the magistrate, others were taken outside the station, in order to prevent them from listening to her statement. But even outside the station, they had created a ruckus and attempted to disrupt the process.

On learning that the batons(lathis) are crucial evidence, when the Magistrate demanded for them to be handed over, the cops didn’t cooperate. They initially behaved as though they didn’t hear the orders and only handed them over after the Magistrate insisted, the report states. 

“A policeman named Maharaja said- ‘you can’t do anything’, in an insulting manner. He also said that his lathi was in his hometown and later said that it was in the Police quarters. He walked around in all directions without any regard to the investigation and said he didn’t have a lathi at all,” as per the report. It adds that another cop jumped the over the compound wall and escaped when asked to produce his lathi. 

On examination by relevant experts, it was found that the CCTV footage from within the station was missing. “Despite the hard disk has 1TB storage, the settings were in such a manner that the daily files would get auto-deleted. There was no data of any recording since June 19 and it was all erased,” said the Magistrate. He also confiscated the Hard disk as it would contain important evidence.

Even while leaving from the station, the Magistrate says policemen in the station were filming videos and threatening the court staff. Later, he submitted details of the inquiry via telephone to the District Magistrate. 

Hearing the father-son custodial deaths case that took place in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has said that there are grounds to book the Sathankulam police under Section 302 (murder) on the basis of the Post mortem report. Three Police personnel including an ASP, DSP and constable also appeared for the hearing as they allegedly hindered the investigation by the Magistrate.

The three cops who were asked to appear for Contempt of Court have been served a notice and given three weeks to respond.

The court has also handed over the investigation to DSP, CB-CID after it expressed concern over the likelihood of destruction of evidence before the case of the custodial death is taken over by the CBI.

A Division Bench of Justice PN Prakash and Justice B Pugalendhi asked the Tamil Nadu government to respond on whether the CB-CID or the DIG, Tirunelveli range would handle the investigation until the CBI takes it over. 

Representing the state government, Additional Advocate General K Chellapandian informed the court that the DIG Tirunelveli range would take over the investigation. 

The judges, however, directed the Tirunelveli DSP, CB-CID to take over the case as an interim arrangement. 

The judged added that they did not want to have any delay in this case, which would further lead to an erosion of public trust. 

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