Tuticorin custodial deaths: Three more police officials arrested for murder of Jayaraj and Fenix

The Crime Branch CID sleuths on Thursday arrested three more police personnel, including an inspector, in a case of alleged torture by police leading to the deaths of a father-son duo at Sathankulam in this southern district in Tamil Nadu.

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, which has been monitoring the case, on Thursday ordered that the matter be transferred from the Judicial Magistrate Court in Kovilpatti to the Chief Judicial Magistrate here.

Following preliminary investigations, inspector Sridhar, head constable Murugan, and sub-inspector Balakrishnan have been arrested, senior police officials said.

With this, the total arrests in the case has risen to four. Sub-inspector Raghu Ganesh was arrested on Wednesday night within hours of the CB-CID taking over the probe into the incident, which has evoked widespread condemnation with demands for stern action against the police personnel.

All the four arrested were remanded to judicial custody by a local court and lodged in a jail in the district, police said.

Meanwhile, police protection has been given to a woman head constable who testified on alleged excesses against the two men at the Sathankulam station.

P Jeyaraj and Fenix, arrested for "violating" lockdown norms over the business hours of their cell phone shop, died at a hospital in Kovilpatti on June 23 while in judicial custody with the relatives alleging they were tortured at the Sathankulam police station by the personnel days earlier.

The high court, which earlier this week ordered the CB- CID to take over the probe apprehending disappearance of evidence, observed that any form of violence "is a product of sick mind".

The state government should continue its "police well being programme" an initiative in collaboration with National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, it said.

"...public security can be ensured only if the police force is physically mentally and morally strong. A few bad apples here and there should not be a reason to condemn the entire force of around 1.25 lakh people..any form of violence is a product of sick mind," a bench of Justices P N prakash and B Pugalendhi said.

Transferring the case to CJM court, it said: "Bearing in mind the fact that a case of this gravity has to be dealt by a Judicial officer of the rank of Subordinate judge, We are of the view that CJM Tuticorin should exercise powers of the judicial magistrate in this case."

The Judges also directed the CJM to conduct an enquiry into injuries sustained by Raja Singh, an inmate of the sub- jail at Kovilpatti, where the father-son duo were also lodged, and direct the Inspector of the town to register a case and transfer the investigation to the deputy superintendent of police.

Earlier, announcing the fresh arrests, a senior CB-CID official said: "All important police personnel involved in the incident have been arrested...the investigation continues." Senior IPS officer S Murugan, who took over as Inspector General of Police South Zone, on Thursday confirmed the four arrests and asserted that "custodial deaths" must not be allowed to happen and all arrests should be carried out in accordance with law and as per the directions of the Supreme Court.

While training police personnel on criminal investigation, scientific methods were focused nowadays, he said, adding probe was also being handled scientifically in all cases.

With such an emphasis and continuous training, allegations of excesses would be a thing of the past, he said.

The official said "adequate police protection" has been provided to the woman police head constable Revathy who testified on the alleged police excesses and told a magisterial probe that the two were assaulted the entire night at the police station.

"She has been given a paid one month leave acceding to her request. The police superintendent has issued an order." In her statement to a Judicial Magistrate who was looking into alleged police excesses, Revathy said the personnel at the Sathankulam police station thrashed Jeyaraj and his son Fenix the whole night there and used lathis for allegedly assaulting them and a table had blood stains on it.

Within hours of taking over the probe on the directions of the high court, the CB-CID on Wednesday slapped murder charges against the accused persons, including sub-inspector Raghu Ganesh.

The two men, Jeyaraj and his son Fenix, were arrested on June 19 for violation of prohibitory orders by keeping their cellphone shop beyond the allowed time.

They were produced before the duty doctor of a government hospital at Sathankulam in Tuticorin district for medical- examination.

The next day, a magistrate remanded them to judicial custody and they were lodged at the Kovilpatti sub-jail.

Fenix was admitted at a government hospital in Kovilpatti by jail authorities on June 22 at 19.45 hours and he died at 21.00 hours while he was undergoing treatment.

Jeyaraj was also admitted to the same facility at 22.30 hours on the same day and he died at 05.40 hours on June 23.

In the backdrop of outrage against their deaths following alleged police brutality, Chief Minister K Palaniswami had on June 28 announced a CBI probe.

However, pending the central agency taking over the case, the high court directed the CB-CID to step in.

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