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The custodial death video has surfaced at a difficult time for Thailand’s police, who are locked in near-daily clashes with pro-democracy protesters demanding reform to the country’s monarchy. Photo: EPA-EFE

Death of Thai man after police extortion attempt captured on viral video, sparks public anger

  • Police officers from a central Thai province allegedly suffocated the 24-year-old to death with a plastic bag in an attempt to extort US$60,000
  • Outraged Thai netizens called out the culture of impunity on social media while the police chief vowed to take legal action

A 10-minute leaked video showing a group of Thai police officers allegedly manhandling a drug suspect by putting a plastic bag over his head to extort money from him has gone viral, sparking outrage on social media.

Thailand’s police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk told reporters on Tuesday the force will build the case and press charges once ready.

Suwat said a dozen officers were linked to the case and he had ordered all units to monitor border crossings to prevent the suspects from fleeing Thailand.

According to the police, a station superintendent from Nakhon Sawan province in central Thailand, Colonel Thitisant Utthanaphon, and six officers were involved in the alleged fatal assault on the handcuffed male inmate.

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Thitisant – who was suspended from duty – appeared to pull a plastic bag over the unnamed victim’s head for around 90 seconds, forcing him to gag, scream and gasp for breath before pleading “let me go.”

Later, the officers knelt on him for several minutes and a senior policeman shouted: “I’m giving you one last chance. Are you going to tell me where the stuff is or do you want to die?”

Soon after, the 24-year-old man went silent and police made an unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate him.


Thitisant, also known as Joe, is under investigation for murder and torturing the man to extort two million baht (US$60,000) from him. It was unclear whether the officer had already fled the country.

The incident, which happened on August 5, came to light after officers leaked footage from the station’s CCTV camera to a high-profile lawyer and a popular investigative TV show.


Hundreds in Thailand defy ban on public gatherings to demand the release of protest leaders

Hundreds in Thailand defy ban on public gatherings to demand the release of protest leaders

But Suwat, while admitting it the death was “tragic” maintained that most police were upright and the incident had occurred due to “one bad apple”.

“It’s also a cautionary tale to fellow police officers to watch and learn that there will be consequences,” he said, adding that if the public did not trust the police then it would be difficult to coexist together.

A court on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for the seven officers involved in the case.


Thailand’s social media erupted in anger over the custody death, with netizens denouncing the culture of impunity and the hashtag superintendent Joe, in Thai, was used in over one million tweets.

“The violent culture and abuses within the police force and army have taken a deep root,” Prajak Kongkirati, political scientist from Thammasat University tweeted.

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“This incident is not about tossing out ‘bad apples’ to fix a problem. It’s about the attainment of power and the culture of impunity that is far beyond public scrutiny.”

Politicians said the incident echoed what happened to George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of police in the US, while others said any links to senior police officers must be transparently announced to avoid a cover-up.
The video has surfaced at a difficult time for Thailand’s police force, who are locked in near-daily clashes with youth pro-democracy protesters demanding reform to the country’s monarchy and resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Clips filmed on mobile phones by members of the public are circulating nearly each day online showing riot police shooting young protesters with rubber bullets from close range as they attempt to drive away, or kicking and hitting suspects once they have been detained in full public view.

Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya was involved in the mishandling of a 2012 hit-and-run case. File photo: AP

“The filmed, tortuous death of the suspect in police custody is a symptom of a wider dilemma in Thailand,” Paul Chambers, an affiliated researcher at Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and an expert on Thai security services, said.


“There are well-meaning police but numerous low-paid rogue police function with legal impunity as a legal mafia.”

Low-ranking officers in Thailand’s 200,000-strong police force are poorly paid and are infamous for topping up salaries with “tea money” for everything from minor driving offences to serious crimes.

The force have long faced accusations of corruption and nepotism and been beset by scandals, including the mishandling of the 2012 hit-and-run case involving Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, scion of the Red Bull empire.

Vorayuth was accused of crashing his Ferrari into a policeman on motorcycle in Bangkok. Several officers were investigated for botching up the case after he fled abroad.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Leaked footage of police torture fuels public anger