Police officers across Tamil Nadu have been transferred and four cities have new police chiefs in a major shake-up in the state in the middle of an investigation into the deaths in custody of a man and his son arrested for keeping their shop open longer than allowed during the coronavirus lockdown.
An Assistant Superintendent of Police, D Kumar, and Deputy Superintendent of Police C Prathaban, facing contempt charges for trying to block investigations into the death of Jeyaraj and his son Beniks in Santhankulam, Tuticorin, have been transferred.
They had been put on “compulsory wait” as the Madras High Court was told by a magistrate that they tried to derail his inquiry into the deaths. But they have fresh postings in a possible violation of the court’s directives. C Prathaban has been moved to the “anti-land grabbing special cell” and Kumar will be posted at the Prohibition Enforcement Wing.
Tuticorin police chief Arun Balagopalan had been replaced yesterday by Jeyakumar.
The state government says the rest of the transfers – 39 in all – are routine and were expected. “These are routine transfers and promotions long overdue. Many officers have retired too. These transfers aren’t from the Tuticorin range at all,” an officer told NDTV.
Chennai has a new Police Commissioner, Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal. Prem Anand Sinha is the new police chief of Madurai, Dr J Loganathan has been posted in Thiruchirapalli and G Karthikeyan is the Police Commissioner of Tiruppur.
The shuffle has come into effect after a day of key developments in the Tuticorin father-son deaths.
The Madras High Court yesterday said policemen involved in the deaths could be charged with murder and ordered security for a constable who has recorded a statement as a witness to Jeyaraj and Beniks being beaten all night at the police station in Santhankulam with lathis (sticks).
The two were arrested on June 19 for keeping their mobile phone shop open 15 minutes beyond curfew. After Jeyaraj was taken away by the police, his son, who reached the police station, was also arrested.
The two were allegedly beaten and tortured and suffered wounds so severe that they died on June 22, within hours of each other.
There is no CCTV footage of the day the two were allegedly beaten. The court was told by the magistrate that security cameras at the police station were programmed to auto-delete footage every day though there is enough storage space in the system’s hard disk.
The constable who is a 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.
When the magistrate asked policemen for their sticks as evidence, one constable jumped over a wall of the police station and escaped. Another policeman believed to be one of the assaulters, Constable Maharajan, claimed his baton was at his native village. He later changed his statement saying it was in the police quarters.
The Jeyaraj-Beniks deaths have triggered a campaign for justice and action against the policemen involved.