CCTV footage demolishes Tamil Nadu police’s 'lies' on custodial deaths

Last Updated 29 June 2020, 14:00 IST

Footage recorded in a CCTV camera near the shop of Emmanuel Bennix and his father P Jeyaraj, who were killed allegedly in police custody, clearly contradicts the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Sathankulam Police which said that the duo “rolled on the road” and entered into an argument with them before their arrest.

The footage, accessed by DH, vindicates the statements of the family of the father-son duo and traders’ in Sathankulam town, 660 km from here, that there was no crowd outside the shop, no argument between Jeyaraj and the police and that it was the men in khaki who took the 61-year-old to the police station without “any reason”.

‘Footage shows father-son duo did not argue’

The footage, recorded by a CCTV camera installed at King Electricals, shows Jeyaraj, wearing a white shirt and a dhoti, standing outside his son’s mobile shop, and talking on his phone. A few seconds later, two policemen on a patrol vehicle arrive there, talk to Jeyaraj, and go near the car.

After a few seconds, the policemen seem to gesture Jeyaraj to come towards their vehicle, which the latter obliges. Another footage shows Bennix (31), coming out of his shop after his father was summoned by the police. While the police take Jeyaraj in their vehicle, the son is seen coming to his shop again and taking his two-wheeler to go to the police station.

The visuals are in complete contradiction with the FIR filed by P Raghuganesh, a sub-inspector at the Sathankulam police station, at 10 pm on June 19, following a complaint by head constable S Murugan and constable Muthuraj.

After taking them into custody during which they were alleged to have been tortured, the police shifted them to the Kovilpatti sub-jail on June 21. However, the son died on June 22 and the father on June 23 due to injuries sustained during the custody.

What did the FIR say?

The release of the footage is an embarrassment to the AIADMK government as Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami almost toed the police line by describing events mentioned in the FIR in his statement issued on June 23, after an uproar over the custodial deaths.

As the death of the father and son within hours of each other led to national outrage, Palaniswami had on Sunday announced that the state government has decided to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The FIR said that the father-son duo entered into an argument with Murugan and Muthuraj, who were on a routine patrol at the Kamaraj Salai in Sathankulam town, at 9.15 pm over keeping Bennix’s shop open beyond permissible hours during Covid-19 lockdown. According to the footage, the incident is recorded at 9.45 pm, but the shop owner said the clock in the system was “fast” due to a technical glitch.

“There was a crowd standing outside the shop and when the two policemen asked them to disperse, everyone left except Jeyaraj and Bennix who squatted on the road and asked the men in khaki on the duty to mind their own business. Further, they were rolling on the floor leading to them getting hurt,” the FIR said.

The background

The CCTV footage bust all the “lies” mentioned in the FIR – there was neither a crowd nor Jeyaraj and Bennix argued with the police. Also, the footage shows Jeyaraj engaging with the police and getting into the police vehicle smashing the claim in the FIR that they squatted on the road.

While the FIR mentions that the duo was taken into custody together, the CCTV footage says Jeyaraj was taken by the police in their vehicle and Bennix taking his two-wheeler to go to the police station to meet his father. Eye-witnesses and family members have maintained that Bennix was arrested only at the police station after he took objection to his father being assaulted by the policemen.

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court took cognizance of the incident and appointed a team of doctors to conduct the post-mortem after which the family accepted the bodies and buried them. It had also issued a slew of direction to the Kovilpatti judicial magistrate regarding the inquest into the custodial deaths.

DMK seeks action against the policemen

As the CCTV footage went viral, the principal Opposition party, DMK, which has been raising the issue since the beginning, sought to know why Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami was still not ordering the concerned to book the policemen in question for murder.

“CCTV footage and media reports establish that Jeyaraj and Bennix were taken by the police without any injuries. Should I remind the Chief Minister that the murderers should be booked under Section 302 of the IPC (Murder)?” Stalin asked.

(Published 29 June 2020, 14:00 IST)

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