Hornbill Unleashed

June 30, 2017

Breaches of police directives and court orders

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:01 AM

In the case of S Balamurugan, who died from “multiple blunt force trauma” injuries in police custody on Feb 8, there were a number of breaches in standard police procedure (as defined by the police themselves, not any outsiders).

Firstly, as he was arrested in the evening, he should have been taken directly to the Shah Alam Centralised Lockup, rather than the Bandar Baru Klang police station.

In fact, the first oddity is that Balamurugan was brought to the Bandar Baru Klang police station at all, given that he was arrested by officers from the North Klang police headquarters, in a case with an investigating officer from North Klang as well (more on this later).

Even if he was held at the Bandar Baru Klang police station, he should not have under any circumstances been subject to any questioning beyond his personal details for the purpose of very basic documentation.

Having police officers – whether from the Bandar Baru Klang police station or elsewhere – interrogate Balamurugan, during that particular time and in that particular place, was a clear and blatant breach of police directives.

It would have been wrong in the daytime, and it was doubly wrong in the nighttime.

ASP Harun (officer in charge at the Bandar Baru Klang police station) stated he knew that officers from the North Klang District Headquarters were involved in Balamurugan’s arrest.

ASP Harun also stated that had he known the officers were from the Serious Crimes Division, he would not have allowed the interrogation to take place.

This is a little perplexing. By law, no interrogations whatsoever were technically supposed to be allowed in the Bandar Baru Klang police station. It should not matter who was intending to do the interrogations.

Obfuscation or severe incompetence?

From Malaysiakini’s coverage of the Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission (EAIC) inquiry:

“When queried by the EAIC chairperson Yaacob Md Sam, Insp Mohd Noor Husri Johari (the investigating officer in Balamurugan’s case) said he was aware that the lock-up facilities at the North Klang district police headquarters were not gazetted.

However, he said he was not aware that the district police chief had issued a directive that no one was to be kept there.

“There is no other suitable place,” he protested when questioned, referring to a temporary place to house detainees before bringing them for a remand hearing or sending them to the designated lock-up facility in Shah Alam.

This is decidedly confusing. Insp Husri states that he knows the North Klang police headquarters were not gazetted (that is, not a place where detentions and interrogations were legally allowed), much less the Bandar Baru Klang police station, but also contradictorily states that “he was not aware that the district police chief had issued a directive that no one was to be kept there”.

This speaks to obfuscation or severe incompetence. The bottom line is that a competent police inspector should be well aware of the law which requires the detainee to be sent to the centralised lockup for any interrogations.

Dummy CCTVs

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are visibly installed at the Bandar Baru Klang police station.

However, ASP Harun testified that:

“.. the CCTV system was incapable of making recordings, nor was anyone posted to monitor the CCTV screens. He explained that the cameras were placed to deter theft within the police station, as only he and his deputy knew that the cameras weren’t recording.

He answered in the affirmative when asked whether the cameras merely served as dummies.”

Installing CCTVs that are not turned on and serve no function seems to be a metaphor for so much in our government.

In an era where police worldwide now wear body cameras in order to increase transparency and accountability, we seem to feel that CCTVs are not even worth turning on.

Just like body cameras, CCTVs can play the very important role of providing a basis to reward good police, and weed out the bad ones.

Would this not improve PDRM as a whole? We can only hope that PDRM’s leadership has enough faith in their officers to perform their duties properly in the cold light of day (as recorded via CCTV), without having to resort to illegal actions in the darkness of the shadows.

Bringing detainees to lockups

As part of their findings regarding this case, Suhakam commissioner Mah Weng Kwai stated:

“There are no lock-ups in the district headquarters and as per standard operating procedure (SOP), detainees must be sent to the lock-up centre after 6pm. In this case, Balamurugan was not sent to the hospital or the Shah Alam centralised lock-up.”

We should note as well that Balamurugan was eventually brought from the Bandar Baru Klang police station to the North Klang police headquarters at about 10.45pm on Feb 6, and then to the Shah Alam Centralised Lockup at about 3.15am on Feb 7.

This begs the question: why was he not brought directly to Shah Alam as per the law?

Had everything been above board, Balamurugan should have been brought directly to the Shah Alam centralised lockup as per clearly-established police procedure.

Bringing him post-arrest to the more established North Klang police headquarters would still have been wrong, but it would likely have been better than taking him to the Bandar Baru Klang police station, where he was allegedly brutally beaten with little or no on-site supervision by superior officers.

Police ignored direct order from magistrate

Perhaps the most tragic part of the Balamurugan saga is that his life was very close to being saved. It was not a case where absolutely no one cared, or tried to do something about it.

It wasn’t even that the people who care did not have the authority to do something about it. It was that the police did not follow the lawful instructions of the courts.

Some excerpts from the EAIC hearings that detail what happened to Balamurugan at his remand hearing on the morning of Feb 7:

“S Balamurugan, who died in police custody on Feb 8, was not taken to hospital by the police officer who had submitted the application to remand Balamurugan, after the remand order bid was rejected by a magistrate.”

This was despite the magistrate issuing a verbal order to the police officer, Muhammad Nabil Abd Manaf, to do so, after rejecting his application for the remand order.

According to lawyer Gerard Lazarus, who had appeared for Balamurugan’s family at the remand hearing, the detainee had vomited blood during the hearing.

Lazarus described Balamurugan as ‘very weak’, with his mouth and nose bleeding when he saw him at the remand hearing.

Lazarus said he had procured a bottle of water for Balamurugan upon his request. He had to hold it up to the man’s mouth, he added, and that was when Balamurugan threw up some blood, which fell onto his hand and into the bottle.

The magistrate, Nik Nur Amalina Mat Zaidan, also said she had noticed Balamurugan’s swollen face and closed eyes, and that he had not responded when his name was called during the remand hearing.

‘I asked (police officer Nabil) whether Balamurugan had been beaten. Nabil did not answer,’ she said. Nabil later said he had replied that he did not know.

She said although she had approved the remand for the three other detainees who were arrested for the same case, she rejected Balamurugan’s remand, as he only happened to be in the same car as the two men who were wanted by the police when they were all arrested.

“I instructed the investigating officer (Nabil) verbally to bring him to the hospital. He didn’t say anything, just ‘Okay, Madam’,” she said.

She also said that although the order had not been written down, it was still a court order that should have been obeyed.”

Bizarre excuses

So, it is an uncontested fact that the magistrate gave specific orders to the police that Balamurugan was to be taken to a hospital.

There will usually be a police officer in charge of a group of detainees who are being brought for a remand hearing before a magistrate, who will present the case on behalf of the police as to why these individuals should be remanded.

In this case, the police officer was one Sgt Muhammad Nabil Abd Manaf. According to the news reports:

“Nabil said in his testimony before the Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission (EAIC) inquiry into Balamurugan’s death in police custody that he thought the family would pick him up and send him to the hospital.

“I was thinking, since his remand has been denied, he will be handed over to family, so the family will send him to the hospital,” Nabil said.

Nabil said he did not inform the inspector in charge of the case on the magistrate’s order to send Balamurugan to the hospital. Nabil said the inspector had called him after the remand hearing to ask about the remand status.

He had then informed the inspector about Balamurugan’s remand being denied, but failed to mention the order to send him to the hospital.

When questioned by one of the lawyers at the inquiry today whether there had been a need to inform the inspector, he replied yes.”

With respect to the bizarre excuse about assuming that Balamurugan would be sent to the hospital by his family, I believe it is fairly safe to assume that the police also did not call Balamurugan’s family on Feb 7 to inform them about his rejected remand, and his extremely ill health.

Sgt Nabil’s decision not to inform his superiors about the magistrate’s order also now puts a large onus with regard to Balamurugan’s death on himself (though perhaps not so much a large onus as the one on the policeman who beat Balamurugan so brutally).

Had Sgt Nabil at least relayed the order to his superiors, as would have been right and proper, the responsibility would at least then partially lie with them.

Polis Raja di Malaysia?

Thus, we have a very clear cut case of a police officer flat out refusing to carry out a magistrate’s order.

The implications of this are deadly serious – indeed, literally so, given Balamurugan’s fate.

The ongoing “joke” is that the acronym for the Royal Malaysian Police should not be PDRM (Polis Diraja Malaysia), but PRDM (“Polis Raja di Malaysia”, or, the police are kings in Malaysia).

I can understand if some policemen find that joke distasteful, but when some police flat out refuse to recognise the power of the judiciary and see direct instructions from the courts as mere ‘guidelines’ to be followed as and when is convenient for the police, then we are looking at an extremely dangerous subversion of the proper chain of command and balance of powers.

Clearly, Sgt Nabil thought it was not crucial to obey the very clear, undisputed instructions of the magistrate.

Again, this is a case not of the police failing to live up to some standard set up by activists or civil society; this is a case of the police failing to adhere to its own rules and procedures, and failing to recognise the power of those in government (the courts) to whom they must be subservient to.

It is not entirely an exaggeration to say that continued failures of these sorts can lead to the collapse of democracy and the establishment of a police state.

Previously (Part 1 of 3): Why aren’t the police following police orders?

Tomorrow (Part 3 of 3): Abusing the revolving door of re-arrests

Source : Malaysiakini by Nathaniel Tan
NATHANIEL TAN used to live right next to Bandar Baru Klang for a while. His mother-in-law used to really enjoy one of the restaurants there. Deepest condolences to the families of the RMAF pilots, and the recent young murder victims.


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