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On 8 June, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases sentenced to death Thitisant ‘Joe Ferrari’ Utthanaphon, a former police colonel, and another 5 officers for suffocating a drug suspect to death with plastic bags in August 2021. The sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment.

A CCTV footage of the interrogation in Muang Nakhon Sawan police station shows how the suspect's head was covered by plastic bags.

Pol Col Thitisant, former chief of Mueang Nakhon Sawan Police Station, Pol Maj Raweerote Ditthong, formerly investigative inspector; Pol Capt Songyot Klainak, formerly deputy inspector for crime suppression; Pol Lt Thoranin Matwanna, also formerly deputy inspector for crime suppression; Pol Snr Sgt Maj Wisut Boonkhiao, Pol Snr Sgt Maj Supakorn Nimcheun, and Pol L/C Paweekorn Khammarew were charged with murder, malfeasance, and coercion for detaining Jeerapong Thanapat, a drug suspect at Nakhon Sawan police station during 4-7 August.

The interrogation involved torture by covering the suspect’s head with 6 plastic bags, leading to his suffocation and death, according to a leaked CCTV video that was made public on 24 August.

The sentence reduction was on the grounds that the six had confessed to the crimes and had been cooperative in trial testimony, and that they had tried to resuscitate the victim, sent him to hospital and gave compensation of 300,000 baht each to the relatives. The death sentence was therefore reduced by a third to life imprisonment.

Defendant Pol Snr Maj Supakorn was found guilty only of malfeasance as he did not take part in the acts that led to the death; he received a sentence of 5 years and 4 months in jail.

The court also said that the 1.5 million baht compensation claim by the victim’s family must be paid by the government agency to which the defendants were affiliated.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) who observed the trial, said the ruling clearly stated how all defendants except the sixth showed the intention to kill the suspect. The verdict included a second-by-second narration of the action, including the continuous threats, covering the victim's head with 7 plastic bags and pressing his head on the floor.

Pornpen speculated that the defendants would exercise their right to appeal the ruling.

The leaked video shocked public opinion with the cruel and unlawful method used by the police to interrogate a criminal suspect. The incident also underlined questions about the use of torture and enforced disappearance by security officers.

As the Draft Bill on Prevention and Suppression of Torture Act and Enforced Disappearance is still under consideration by the Senate, the trial has been conducted based on other charges.

It has been almost four months since the House of Representatives approved the draft bill and passed it on to the Senate. There is still no fixed date when the process will be finished, according to a press release from the CrCF, an NGO campaigning against torture and enforced disappearance.

If passed, the bill will make it illegal for state authorities to secretly detain and torture people, mandating prison sentences for both perpetrators and their commanding officers.  It will also allow victims’ relatives to file complaints as injured parties and seek compensation.

Thitisant, nicknamed ‘Joe Ferrari’ for his notorious fleet of luxury cars, also has participated in training under a 904 Volunteer programme, a royal project initiated by King Rama X for government officials. He was in the 2/61 group alongside high-ranking police officers including the assistant police chief Pol Lt Gen Torsak Sukvimol and Pol Maj Gen Jirapob Bhuridej, Commander of the Central Investigation Bureau.

Torsak is the brother of ACM Satitpong Sukvimol, a military officer who serves as the Director of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) and is Private Secretary to King Rama X. Jirapob’s brother, Gen Jakrapob Bhuridej, is also a military officer who serves as Deputy Commander of the Royal Security Command and Commander of the King’s Bodyguard Command.

After Thitisant was placed in police custody on 26 August 2021, he was stripped of his status as a 904 Volunteer by Adm Pawit Rujithes, director of the Royal Initiative Volunteers Project, claiming Thitisant had damaged the reputation to the Volunteer Project.

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