Hearing into Balamurugan’s death in custody ends

jail_banduan_dead_600PUTRAJAYA: The public hearing into the custodial death of car theft suspect S Balamurugan ended today, revealing further weaknesses that could have led to his death.

During the hearing, it was revealed that there was a conflict of interest as the investigating officer (IO) was put in charge of probing Balamurugan’s death although he was involved in the case even before that.

ASP Muhammad Khuzairi Abu Wahab said he had not informed his superiors of his involvement in the case.

“I just followed the instructions (of the superiors),” he said.

Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) head Yaacob Md Sam, who chaired the hearing, said this conflict in interest could cause the investigation into Balamurugan’s death to be called into question.

Balamurugan, 44, was not released from police custody despite a Klang magistrate rejecting a police request for him to be remanded and ordering police to send the suspect to hospital on Feb 7.

Yaacob also read text messages written by Khuizari indicating his involvement before the death.

On Feb 7 at 6.05pm, Khuzairi had written that Balamurugan was involved in other cases in the JSJ Command, a WhatsApp work group for the Klang Utara district police headquarters.

“You also wrote the OKT (detainee) is the mastermind of other (theft) cases.

“It could have influenced the thoughts of others (not to release Balamurugan despite having the remand rejected),” said Yaacob.

Yaacob asked if anyone else had come into the cell after Balamurugan’s death. Khuzairi said the cell was cordoned off with yellow tape and nobody was allowed to go in.

Yaacob said the officer handling the sudden death report should be an independent person and could be an officer from another station or Bukit Aman.

An assistant medical officer had told the hearing last month that he confirmed the death of Balamurugan in his cell. He also said the detainee was wearing purple lockup attire on top.

However, Khuzairi told the hearing today that Balamurugan was not wearing it.

The hearing had also called Inspector Nor Harman Ab Hamid who took pictures of Balamurugan’s body at the Klang Utara district police headquarters.

Harman said there was dry blood on Balamurugan’s nose and mouth but did not carry out any blood sampling to determine if the blood was that of Balamurugan. He said that was because the blood was on the victim.

But Yaacob said it was an open lockup and it could have been anyone’s blood.

Harman said he came into the Klang Utara district police headquarters at 3am and waited till 5am for the coroner to arrive.

Asked by lawyer Sivaraj Retinasegaran if he was briefed on the victim’s death, Harman replied “no”.

“Why didn’t you take a sampling (of the blood) since you did not know how he died?” asked Sivaraj.

To this, Harman said it was because the blood was on the victim.

Yaacob had asked him how he secured the crime scene until 5am while waiting for the coroner to arrive.

“I told my staff and IO to secure the place,” he replied.

Instructions not followed

SAC Yusoff Mamat, the district police chief, said his instruction on sending unwell detainees for medical checks was not followed.

He said his officers failed to follow other instructions, including sending anyone arrested after 6pm directly to the Shah Alam centralised lockup.

On Feb 6, the day Balamurugan was arrested at about 7pm, he was first taken to the Bandar Baru Klang police station.

At around midnight, he was taken to the Klang Utara district police headquarters.

At 3am, he was finally taken to the Shah Alam centralised lockup. He was presented to the court at 10am.

The police request for him to be remanded was rejected by the magistrate, who ordered the IO to take Balamurugan to hospital.

47 witnesses called to testify

Yaacob said the public hearing had initially announced it would call 55 witnesses, but that was only an estimation.

“We don’t have to call everyone, only to repeat the same evidence,” said Yaacob.

He said there were various discrepancies in the witnesses’ testimony due to their memory or recollection of things that had happened.

“It is the work of the adjudicator to sieve through all the evidence and make a proper finding.

“The task now is to prepare our report and findings. Reasonable time is needed.”

The verdict in the case will be made public once the report is completed.