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Thoothukudi custodial deaths: CBI files charge sheet naming 9 police personnel for torturing father, son

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a chargesheet against nine Tamil Nadu police officers, including then station house officer (SHO) of Sathankulam police station in Thoothukudi, for allegedly illegally picking up and torturing P Jayaraj and J Bennicks all night in June. The men died in hospital.

The charge sheet names former SHO of Sathankulam police station S Sridhar, two sub-inspectors K Balakrishnan and P Raghuganesh, two head constables S Murugan and A Samadurai, and four constables M Muthuraja, S Chelladurai, X Thomas Francis and Veyil Muthu for criminal conspiracy, murder, wrongful confinement, destruction of evidence and levelling false charges. All nine are currently lodged in jail. Sub-inspector Pauldurai, whom the agency arrested in July and who died in jail due to Covid-19, has not been accused in the charge sheet but his role has been mentioned in the alleged conspiracy, officials said.

P Jayaraj (59) and his son J Bennicks (31) were arrested on June 19 and lodged in Kovilpatti sub-jail for keeping their mobile phone shop in the main market of Sathankulam town open during a curfew imposed during the Covid-19-induced lockdown.

The father and son were allegedly tortured during the police custody after which they were admitted to the Kovilpatti government hospital on June 22. While Bennicks died the same night, Jayaraj breathed his last on the morning of June 23.

The incident had led to massive public outrage across the country with demand of action against the accused police officers. The Tamil Nadu government ordered a CBI probe in the first week of July, after which a special team was sent to investigate the custodial death.

CBI spokesperson R K Gaur said, “A CBI team camped at Madurai and worked untiringly through Covid-19 pandemic.”

In fact, nine CBI officers were infected with Covid-19 while investigating the case.

Sharing details of charge sheet, Gaur said, “The investigation revealed that the father-son duo were arrested on June 19, 2020 and tortured at the Sathankulam police station by the accused in the evening as well as in the intervening night, consequent to which both of them succumbed to the injuries and died in the intervening night of June 22 and 23”.

Officials who didn’t wish to be named added that Sathankulam police station officials, “to cover up their misdeeds, not only destroyed the evidence of torture but also registered false cases against both the deceased on the allegations that father and son had not closed their mobile shop even after the permitted time and thereby violated general prohibitory orders.”

This officer added that role of others in the deaths as well as subsequent cover-up is being further investigated.

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