Security footage has been erased at the Sathankulam police station in Tamil Nadu where a man and his son were detained before they died of excessive wounds, allegedly from torture and beatings, an inquiry report submitted to the Madras High Court reveals.
The court was told that there is no CCTV footage of the police station available from June 19, the day Jeyaraj and his son Beniks were arrested for keeping their mobile phone shop in Santhankulam, Tuticorin, open beyond permitted hours during the coronavirus lockdown. The report submitted yesterday also reveals that policemen being investigated tried their best to block investigations and one constable "jumped over a wall and escaped" when asked to hand over his stick as evidence.
Beniks, 31, died on June 22 and his father Jeyaraj, 59, died early next day. The two men were allegedly subjected to savage torture in custody. Their family alleges they had severe internal and external wounds, including rectal bleeding. Vital footage that could have revealed what was done to them in custody may have been lost.
NDTV has accessed the report of a Judicial Magistrate, which says CCTVs installed at the police station had been programmed to auto-delete footage every day though there is enough storage space - 1 terabyte -- in the system's hard disk.
A key witness at the police station has given some clues to what may have happened between June 19 and 20 when the men were allegedly attacked brutally and taken for judicial custody with horrifying wounds all over their bodies. However, many other policemen at the station were uncooperative.
The witness told the magistrate that both father and son were beaten with sticks through the night. So much that the sticks and tables in the vicinity were blood-stained, she said, urging the magistrate to seize the objects as evidence.
"She had asked me to seize the lathis (sticks) and the tables there but other police personnel present there did not cooperate in handing over their lathis," the magistrate's report said.
A constable asked to hand over his stick jumped over a wall of the police station and escaped, the report said.
Another policeman, Constable Maharajan, claimed his baton was at his native village. He later changed his statement saying it was in the police quarters.
"Police personnel present there were recording the events in their mobile phones and were intimidating the court staff. Because the situation was not safe for us, we returned immediately," the Judicial Magistrate told the court.
"You cannot do anything to us," Constable Maharajan said, according to the magistrate's report.
The High Court today said there are grounds to charge police personnel with murder based on post-mortem reports.
The police claims Jeyaraj and Beniks had thrown verbal abuses at their personnel and rolled around on the street while resisting arrest for keeping their shop open 15 minutes beyond curfew.
Beniks was admitted to hospital at 7.45 pm on June 22, three days after the arrest. He died around 9 pm, according to a timeline released last night by the police. His father was admitted around 10.30 pm the same night. Jeyaraj died early next day, at 5.40 am.
The deaths have generated shock and outrage and calls for murder charges against the police involved. Activists, politicians and celebrities have called for justice.
The state government has handed over the investigation to the CBI.