The Ferrari Joe case involving the torture and murder of a 24-year-old drug suspect in police custody on August 5th last in Nakhon Sawan shocked and horrified Thailand. The case raised unsettling questions about the sense of impunity which drove the city police chief and his subordinates to act in the way they did. Later revelations about the mid-level young policeman’s extraordinary wealth also painted a disturbing picture.

Ferrari Joe and his subordinates whose fate was relayed to them last week by a court verdict in Bangkok to the city’s central prison could still face a death sentence in a review by the Court of Appeal after six of the seven men including Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon, received a life sentence for the murder under torture of drug suspect Jeerapong Thanapat in Nakhon Sawan on August 5th last. That is according to Itthiporn Kaewthip, an official at the Office of the Attorney-General who told reporters last Thursday that the verdict and judgement in the case cannot yet be considered final. 

The former police chief in the city of Nakhon Sawan Police Colonel Titisan Utthanaphon or ‘Ferrari Joe’ and six of his subordinates had the verdict of the court in Bangkok relayed to them on Wednesday last which saw six of them receive the death sentence which was immediately commuted to life in prison while one former officer received five years and four months for failure to perform his official duties, via a teleconference facility at the city’s infamous Bang Kwang Central Prison. This was followed by a statement from an official at the Office of the Attorney-General who explained to reporters that the judgement, in this case, is not yet finalised as even if the defendants do not appeal the verdict, it is still likely to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal as a matter of procedure.

On Wednesday last 8th June, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases sitting at Railway Road in Bangkok read out its judgement and verdict at the conclusion of the trial of former Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon and six other officers before the court on charges of intentional killing a drug suspect at Nakhon Sawan Police Station in the centre of Nakhon Sawan between August 4th and August 6th last year.

The case of Ferrari Joe, the 31-year-old policeman who had risen quickly through the ranks while at the same time amassing a fortune reported to be ฿600 million including expensive real estate and 42 luxury cars, has fascinated and appalled both the Thai public and foreigners outside the kingdom since the heinous and brutal killing of 24-year-old Jeerapong Thanapat, a small-time drug dealer in Nakhon Sawan was seen in a leaked video that went viral nearly three weeks after the killing, sparking outrage.

Horrific torture video shows officer fastening seven plastic bags to the victim’s neck and hitting him

The video showed the senior police officer at Nakhon Sawan Police Station personally covering the handcuffed suspect’s head with seven plastic bags and precisely taping the coverings to his victim’s neck so that the tormented younger man subsequently died from suffocation.

In another part of the video, the suspect is seen being assaulted.

After he became unresponsive, Mr Jeerapong was subsequently rushed to the local Sawanpracharak Hospital where attempts were made to revive him but to no avail. He was declared dead.

Revealing details of what he says happened at Nakhon Sawan Police Station on Thursday, August 5th last

Afterwards, a preliminary medical opinion was issued citing a possible drug overdose as the cause of death sparking a probe into police efforts to cover up the matter.

Full autopsy later showed conclusively that Mr Jeerapong had died from asphyxiation during ordeal

A full autopsy, conducted later, showed that Mr Jeerapong died from asphyxiation while under the personal interrogation of Police Colonel Thitisan.

The video clip that went viral was accompanied by credible reports suggesting that the former commanding officer at Nakhon Sawan Police Station had been attempting to extort ฿2 million in a bribe from the suspect after he had already agreed to pay over ฿1 million to secure the release of himself and his wife or girlfriend who was also being held in custody.

Both had been arrested reportedly on Wednesday, August 4th, with over 100,000 methamphetamine pills. 

The torture inflicted on the suspect is believed to have taken place in an interrogation room within Nakhon Sawan Police Station

‘Ferrari Jo’ arrested by police, accuses the media of slandering him, says it made him feel suicidal on the run

After the video of the incident went viral throughout Thailand when it was released by well-known lawyers and activists, unprecedented public outcry and revulsion over the affair spread on social media.

Police top brass in Bangkok ordered a full probe and sent officers to Nakhon Sawan to get to the bottom of the outrage despite an attempted cover-up

National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jang­yod­suk promptly ordered a rigorous and thorough enquiry with senior officers dispatched to Nakhon Sawan from Royal Thai Police headquarters who quickly determined the nature of the crime and efforts made locally by Police Colonel Thitisan and his subordinates to cover it up.

At one point, the city police chief was declared a fugitive on the run before quickly surrendering to a police officer in Chonburi on August 26th 2021.

After this, the reviled former top cop attended a press conference hosted by police top brass in Bangkok where he attempted to defend his actions suggesting he did not intend to kill the suspected drug dealer but was only trying to elicit intelligence from him by applying force.

He said that Mr Jeerapong’s death was simply an accident after he had gone too far in interrogating the arrested man.

‘I did not intend to kill him,’ he told reporters. ‘I intended to get the information so I can destroy the drug business.’

This position was later taken up by Police Colonel Thitisan’s lawyers in court in March when he claimed that his client was guilty only of assault on a criminal suspect while in custody.

Spectre of police impunity and corruption raised

The case of Police Colonel Thitisan or ‘Ferrari Joe’ has also raised the spectre of police corruption with reports in parliament last year alleging senior police in the province were complicit in high-level drug dealing operations from within the Golden Triangle.

The August 2021 video which led to Ferrari Joe’s downfall, showed a group of officers involved in the abuse of a suspect also spoke to a sense of impunity within the force when dealing with criminal types. 

Golden Triangle drugs threat aired in parliament, claims of senior police officers being involved in trafficking

These concerns were raised even further when police, investigating Police Colonel Thitisan, raided a ฿60 million mansion on 5 rai of land with servants in the Ramintra area of Bangkok where they found 13 luxury cars valued at ฿100 million and further evidence of unusual wealth.

‘Ferrari Jo’ arrested by police, accuses the media of slandering him, says it made him feel suicidal on the run

Public disquiet about how a mid-level police officer on a salary of only ฿40,000 a month could have attained such wealth later led to an unusual press conference given by a Mr Patchara Anuntasilpa, the Director of the Thai Customs Department within the Ministry of Finance.

This official told reporters that the 31-year-old policeman had been a key figure in the seizure of some 368 luxury cars in Thailand which netted the state approximately ฿1 billion with only 5 of the cars remaining unsold.

Prosecuted for the intentional killing or murder of 24-year-old Jeerapong Thanapat involving torture

The charges brought against Police Colonel Thitisan and his subordinate officers were laid under Section 289(5) of the Thai Criminal Code for murder or the intentional killing of Mr Jeerapong using torture.

The court, on Wednesday last, found Police Colonel Thitisan and five of the other defendants guilty of murdering Mr Jeerapong in custody.

The six men were sentenced to death for the crime with the seventh defendant getting 8 years for failing to perform his duty or negligence under Section 157 of the Criminal Code thereby causing harm or injury to others.

This was reduced to 5 years and 4 months due to the officer’s testimony to the court.

The court found that the payment by Police Colonel Thitisan and other accused officers to the family of the victim, reported to have been ฿300,000 and a further ฿30,000 concerning the funeral expenses, to have been a mitigating factor and commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

Father of victim who initially believed his son died in an accident, at the court in Bangkok last week

Outside the court on Wednesday last, the reaction of the father of the victim Navin Thanapat, who initially accepted the explanation offered by the now-convicted former police chief, that his son had died as the result of an accident, was one of sadness

‘All seven officers should learn their lesson and pay for their crime,’ he told the AFP News agency. 

Mr Navin told reporters that while watching the judgement being given by the court which was relayed by video conference facility to the defendants being held at Bangkok Central Prison or Bang Kwang Prison also known infamously to foreigners as the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, he felt helpless and his wife began to cry during the proceedings.

It is understood that Mr Navin will now pursue a civil case against the state over his son’s death seeking damages and compensation.

The court did not award the family of the victim compensation directly last week.

A spokesman for the Office of Attorney General said that the parents who are believed to be taking the case as joint plaintiffs must now sue the government in relation to the matter under a law which allows for compensation to be awarded when officials violate their oaths and fail to perform their duties or cause damage to others.

Judgement in relation to this case has not yet been finalised according to an Office of the Attorney-General official who says the case will be reviewed

On Thursday, Mr Itthiporn Kaewthip of the Office of the Attorney-General explained to reporters that the application of the death penalty by the court was in accordance with what the prosecution had requested but that the substitution of this with life imprisonment was something which was within the court’s discretion depending on the circumstances.

Mr Itthiporn pointed out, however, that even if the defendants in the matter do not appeal Wednesday’s decision, it is normal for the Court of Appeal to review the verdict and the sentence imposed as a matter of procedure.

Therefore, he warned this judgement should not yet be considered finalised.

Only if the Court of Appeal confirms the life imprisonment sentence and the defendants fail to appeal will the case be finalised, meaning that a death sentence can still be imposed.

An appeal by the defendants in the case is also, of course, a possibility.

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Further reading:

Rights activist’s concern as the trial of Ferrari Joe begins in Bangkok for killing of a smalltime drugs suspect

Police chief to expedite the removal of ‘Ferrari Joe’ as capital murder charges are due to be filed in court

‘Ferrari Joe’ bipolar mental condition treated with scepticism by the senior policeman in charge of the case

Fears grow that Ferrari Jo will evade justice as local monk offers him support as a ‘peacekeeper’

‘Ferrari Jo’ arrested by police, accuses the media of slandering him, says it made him feel suicidal on the run

Golden Triangle drugs threat aired in parliament, claims of senior police officers being involved in trafficking

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