Coroner rules police, other inmates to blame for detainee’s death

A coroner today ruled that policemen and inmates were responsible for the death of an unemployed man while he was detained at the Tampin district police headquarters in Negri Sembilan two years ago.

Published: 28 January 2015 4:40 PM

Coroner Datuk Jagjit Singh said the cause of death of P.Karuna Nithi was caused by 49 multiple injuries by blunt objects including physical assault, abuse and unlawful acts by persons unknown, inclusive of police officers and other detainees where Karuna Nithi was held.

Jagjit, who is a Sessions Court judge in Seremban, said in his verdict that there was failure or omission to provide the necessary medical care and attention required by Karuna Nithi.

“There was also failure of the police officers to stop other detainees from abusing Karuna Nithi in the police lock-up.”

This is the second verdict this month where police have been found responsible for the death of detainees in police custody.

On January 16, coroner Ahmad Bache held police responsible for the death of lorry driver P.Chandran through their omission to provide him with timely medical assistance.

Chandran had been detained at the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur on September 6, 2012 and was held for four days before his untimely death.

Jagjit said having gone through all the evidence, he was satisfied that the cause of Karuna Nithi’s death was due to a combination of unlawful acts and omissions by person or persons unknown.

“The deceased was a healthy adult with no life threatening diseases when he entered the lock-up but ended up dead three days later with 49 external injuries,” he said.

He said a custodial death with that number of injuries should have “rung alarm bells from the word go”.

Jagjit said he rejected the evidence of forensic pathologist Dr Sharifah Safoorah Syed Alwee after extensive examination of the shortcomings in her testimony.

“She had erroneously found that the cause of death was due to ‘fatty change in the liver’. But this cannot be so when the deceased had 49 external injuries,” he said.

Jagjit said closed circuit television footages from the police station clearly revealed Karuna Nithi was beaten by other inmates and the cops on duty were privy to what happened.

He said some policemen had also contributed to the beating, harassment and bullying based on evidence adduced from the CCTV.

Jagjit admitted that Karuna Nithi was a difficult detainee, adding “but that was no reason to ill-treat him”.

“He was repeatedly transferred from one cell to another because he was having hallucinations, raving and ranting,” he added.

The judge said a policeman also testified that Karuna Nithi’s welfare was neglected because it was thought that he was only pretending to be sick while in the lock-up.

Karuna Nithi, 42, was found unconscious inside his cell by a policeman who went to check on him at about 6pm on June 1, 2013.

He was rushed to the district hospital but was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Police had detained him at about 5.30pm on May 28 after his wife lodged a report that he had assaulted her following a quarrel at their home at Rumah Rakyat Taman Muhibbah in Gemencheh.

Karuna Nithi had also lodged a report earlier in the day admitting he had assaulted his wife because he could not take her verbal abuse.

He was taken to the Tampin magistrate’s court the following morning where a four-day remand order was issued.

On May 31, he was charged with causing hurt and was allowed a RM4,000 bail but was taken back to the lock-up because his family could not post the amount to secure his release.

Police have maintained there was no physical abuse involved in his death although family members alleged there were fresh injuries on his body.

Lawyer Eric Paulsen, who appeared for the family of Karuna Nithi, said this was yet another landmark verdict which the authorities must take serious notice of.

“The judge reiterated a Court of Appeal ruling last year that not a single person should die in a police lock-up. This is also a small victory for human rights,” added Eric, who is also executive director for Lawyers for Liberty.

He said Dr Sharifah was supposed to “speak for the dead person” but her findings were not justified.

Co-counsel Dr Dheeraj Bhar, who was a medical doctor, said the rejection of Dr Sharifah’s evidence had to do with her credibility as a professional.

“I hope the Malaysian Medical Council will look into this in light of what the judge  concluded,” he added. – January 28, 2015