BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai court on Wednesday jailed six police officers for life for torturing and killing a drug suspect during interrogation, among them an influential police colonel famously nicknamed “Joe Ferrari” for his collection of luxury sports cars.
A Bangkok court initially sentenced the six officers to death for coercion, malfeasance, abuse of authority and death by torture, but commuted that to life imprisonment for their cooperation and attempts to revive the suspect, court documents showed.
Superintendent Thitisan “Joe” Uttanapol, 40, a police chief in Nakhon Sawan province, was arrested with six other officers in August, when an interrogation video went viral showing the victim with plastic bags over his head, suffocating while pinned down on the floor.
One of the officers was jailed on Wednesday for eight years for malfeasance, commuted to just over five years.
The video captured huge attention in Thailand and sparked a debate about abuse and corruption by police and the extent to which powerful law enforcement figures are untouchable.
The trial was seen as a test of Thailand’s judicial system and its willingness to hold senior police accountable.
All of the officers plan to appeal their sentences, Chokchai Angkaew, the lawyer for Thitisan, told Reuters.
Thitisan, a career policeman, is also being investigated about the extent and sources of his wealth after the discovery of a dozen luxury vehicles, including a Lamborghini and Ferrari, during a raid on his plush Bangkok home.
Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a Thai human rights activist who monitors and documents torture cases, said the verdict was an important precedent for legal cases concerning abuse by state officials.
“This is not the first case where state officials torture suspects in this manner. But it is the first time that the justice system managed to bring wrongdoers who are officials to justice,” said Pornpen, the director of Cross Cultural Foundation.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Martin Petty)