TN Custodial Deaths: Madras HC Finds Prima Facie Evidence to Book Cops for Murder

The Madurai bench of the Madras high court has ruled that prima facie evidence exists to book for murder the policemen who were allegedly involved in the custodial death of 62-year-old P. Jayaraj and his 32-year-old son J. Bennix in Santhakulam.

Traders P. Jayaraj (60) and his son J. Bennix (32) died in judicial custody after Sathankulam police arrested them on June 19 for violating COVID-19 related lockdown restrictions at Sathankulam town and remanded them the next day at the Kovilpatti Sub Jail (“Police terror”, Frontline, July 17, 2020). The deaths raised a furore across the country and even around the world over police brutality.

Justice PN Prakash and B Pugalendhi made the observation that the Santhakulam police was trying to destroy the evidence related to custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix, and ordered the Deputy Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, and Tamil Nadu Police to take charge of the probe. 

The HC, Madurai Bench on Monday initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against three police officers for obstructing the HC-ordered inquiry by Judicial Magistrate.

The judicial magistrate had also informed the court that Head Constable Revathy had come forward to spill the beans. In his June 29 report, the Magistrate had also informed the court that the Head Constable had been afraid to speak about the case, and that she was initially reluctant to sign her statement.

In the interests of justice, the court has now directed that the Head Constable’s statement be recorded by a Judicial Magistrate other than the Santhakulam Magistrate or the Magistrate conducting the probe. The court has also ordered the Thoothukudi Collector to ensure the safety of the Head Constable and her family.

The bench was of the view that if they do not act now, it will become too late, for, the consent of the State Government should be accepted by the Central Government and only thereafter, can the C.B.I take up the case on its file and owing to COVID- 19 pandemic, it is not known how many C.B.I. personnel will be drafted from other wings and made available to investigate with the investigating officer.

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