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Monday, July 10, 2017

Juveniles may get locked with adults in overcrowded lockups, inquiry told



Juvenile detainees get locked together with adults in the event of overcrowding at police lockups, an Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) hearing was told today.
The officer in charge of the Shah Alam centralised lockup facility, ASP Mazhar Mohamad, admitted that this is a serious breach in procedure but the situation cannot be helped because he could not turn the detainees away.
“Most lockups are like that, actually,” he told the EAIC inquiry today, adding that male and female detainees may be locked together, too, in such situations.
However, he was unable to confirm whether the Shah Alam centralised lockup facility was overcrowded at the time when death-in-custody victim Balamurugan Supiah was admitted.
The EAIC panel, headed by its chairperson Yaacob Md Sam, was questioning Mazhar on lockup procedures and asked how was a juvenile locked together with Balamurugan and other adults.
Mazhar testified that he was outstation in Batu Caves, at the time to conduct operations in conjunction with Thaipusam and therefore did not take notice of the running of the facility.
Balamurugan was detained with three others, including a juvenile by the surname Ang, on the night of Feb 6.
They were first brought to the Bandar Baru Klang police station where Balamurugan was allegedly beaten, before being taken to the Shah Alam centralised lockup facility in the wee hours of Feb 7.
They were brought before a Klang magistrate a few hours later, where the magistrate ordered for Balamurugan to be released immediately and taken to a hospital due to his deteriorating health.
However, he was brought to the North Klang police district headquarters instead, where he was found dead on Feb 8.
A pathologist had previously told the inquiry that Balamurugan had died of a severe blunt force trauma he had received, which in turn aggravated an existing heart condition.
Meanwhile, Mazhar said the Shah Alam centralised lockup facility has a gazetted capacity of 234 detainees and receives detainees from Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, North and South Klang, and Sungai Buloh.
Its large cells can hold eight detainees, while smaller ones can hold three.
During police operations, however, this capacity may be exceeded.
“With the big cells, even with 20 people, we’d just stuff them inside. There are supposed to be only eight, but we have to even though the lockup is too small.
“This is a weakness that is very glaring,” he said.
He added that various facilities at the lockup are in a state of disrepair, and would cost between RM2 million and RM5 million to fix.
However, his applications for an allocation to conduct repairs had been repeatedly turned down by Bukit Aman, citing a lack of budget.
Of the 88 cells available, he said 19 had been damaged and could not be used due to clogged toilets, malfunctioning pipes, damaged lighting, and other factors.
The lockup facility’s centralised air conditioning system also does not work, and the CCTV system malfunctions whenever there is a storm.
The lockup facilities’ orange uniforms for detainees are also in short supply. After the initial batch five or six years ago when the facility was set up, there hasn’t been any fresh supplies and detainees are sometimes held while wearing their street clothes.
One of the facilities that was not in working order was the room used to conduct physical examinations on detainees prior to being admitted to the facility.
Therefore, Mazhar said, the checks are to be conducted in a temporary holding cell instead, as they change into their lockup uniforms.
If there are any signs of physical injury, Mazhar said detainees are to be taken to a hospital immediately, accompanied by two escorts.
Detainees are also required to declare whether they have any pre-existing medical conditions during the admission process.
However, CCTV footage from the lockup facility aired at the hearing today showed that no police personnel were present inside the holding cell to conduct inspections as Balamurugan and others changed into lockup uniforms.
When this was pointed out, Mazhar admitted, “Yes, this is a weakness amongst the personnel.”
Meanwhile, the CCTV footage viewed by the EAIC hearing today was from 3.27am on Feb 7 when Balamurugan and his group were first brought in through the registration office, until 9.30am that day when the group was brought out of their cells.
It showed that Balamurugan was initially able to walk unassisted, albeit slowly, and lagging well behind the rest of the group.
It also showed that Balamurugan was able to get up and use his cell’s toilet facilities at 6.12am and 6.46am, and was able to get up for a routine cell inspection at 9.10am.
By 9.30am however, when he and other detainees were brought out of the cell, Balamurugan was assisted by two detainees holding him on his left and right sides.
This appears consistent with earlier testimonies by other detainees Tamilarasan Karapiah and Ang, who claimed at the hearing that they had to help Balamurugan walk after his alleged beating.
In particular, Tamilarasan had claimed that several detainees had to help Balamurugan get to their cell on the facility’s first floor due to the latter’s large size and weak condition.
When asked for the CCTV footage, Mazhar said he is unsure if it is available, as only some stairwells at the facility are equipped with CCTV cameras.

He also claimed that he hasn’t viewed the CCTV footages of Balamurugan since he returned to the lockup facility.
To a question from an observer representing the police’s Integrity and Standard Compliance Department, Mazhar denied that this means he is an irresponsible police officer for not taking an interest in the case after returning to his normal duties.
Mazhar is the inquiry’s 36th witness. Three other witnesses also testified today.
The hearing is expected to enter its final day tomorrow morning.- Mkini

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