The Central Bureau of Investigation has taken over the investigation into the deaths of a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi district after alleged torture at the Sathankulam police station, officials said Wednesday.
The alleged beating by the police personnel resulting in the deaths of J Benniks and his father RP Jeyaraj on June 20 and June 23 respectively has evoked strong criticism from political parties as well as civil society members who said it was akin to the George Floyd incident in the United States.
It also triggered demands for police reforms in the country and prompted the state government to recommend a probe by the CBI.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had written a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking a CBI probe into the matter.
The CBI after getting a reference from the Centre on July 6 handed over the investigation to its Delhi-based Special Crimes Unit and dispatched a team to conduct the probe, the officials said.
According to laid down procedure, the CBI on Tuesday evening re-registered the case filed at Kovilpatti police station related to the deaths under Indian Penal Code section of custodial death with suspected offences to be 'illegal detention, murder and destruction of evidence'.
It is alleged that the two were arrested by Sathankulam police for alleged violation of prohibitory orders in force due to COVID-19 lockdown by keeping their mobile phone shop open in the district beyond the allowed time.
The judicial magistrate probing the incident had informed the Madras high court that the policemen thrashed the father-son duo the whole night in the police station with batons and a table with bloodstains bears testimony to this.
The findings were based on a statement from a women police personnel attached to the police station where the alleged crime took place.
Mentioning Head Constable Revathy's statement in a four-page report to the Madurai bench of the high court, the magistrate said she feared threats if she revealed the facts.
After the alleged beating, Jeyaraj and Benniks were sent to sub-jail under remand around 2.30 AM on June 20 where they were kept as prisoner number 3636 and 3635 respectively.
In the morning around 7.45, Benniks complained of a wheezing problem and was taken to Kovilpatti government hospital in an autorickshaw.
The doctors declared at 9 am that he could not survive, the FIR alleged.
Two days later, around 10.20 pm on June 22, Jeyaraj complained of fever and was taken to government hospital.
In the morning around 5.40 the next day, doctors told the authorities that the treatment failed and Jeyaraj too died, they said.
The magistrate also told the court that the personnel at the police station did not cooperate at first when he sought hand over of the batons but relented only after being 'compelled'.
One of them even fled the place by scaling a wall when sought for his lathi.
The magistrate further stated that the settings of the CCTV hard disk in the police station, despite having sufficient space of one terabyte, were configured in a way that the day's footage will be 'automatically deleted'.
The high court had earlier said that from the report filed by the judicial magistrate, it was able to discern that the Sathankulam police were taking advantage of the fact the investigation of the case was in limbo and were attempting to cause the disappearance of evidence.
They were emboldened enough to even intimidate the magistrate during the investigation in the station, justices P N Prakash and B Pugalendhi had noted while handing over the probe to CB-CID.
Five police personnel including an inspector have been arrested so far.