Banteay Meanchey provincial police arrested a commune police officer on August 31 after he shot a 21-year-old man while on an evening patrol in Nimit commune, in an incident police say was unintentional.
The family of the victim, Neang Makara, filed a complaint at the provincial court on August 31 against Nimit Commune Deputy Police Chief Rithy Piseth for attempted murder and illegal use of a weapon.
According to the victim’s family, Makara was shot in the back on August 27 when he turned to board his motorbike after having a short discussion with the police officer, who had stopped a motorbike bearing two of Makara’s friends. Police, however, say Piseth discharged his gun accidentally after unholstering it in self defense as Makara had attempted to start a fight with the officer.
Provincial court spokesman Teng Samai said Piseth remainsin police custody after his questioning at the court was cut short due to a lack of documents.
“He was sent to the court, but the prosecutor decided to send him back to the police because they were missing some documents,” he said, adding that the suspect will be questioned at the court on September 1.
The father of the victim, Noun Vor, 49, said he had filed the lawsuit at the court after the commune police ignored his calls to take legal action against Piseth. He said his son had been seriously injured, with the bullet entering his back from the left and exiting beneath his right arm.
“I had already filed a complaint at the commune police office on Friday 28, but they took no action, so I decided today to file a complaint at the court,” he said.
“He [Makara] was shot with one bullet through the left of his back, which ricocheted into his right arm,” he said, adding that he is still receiving medical treatment at Monkol Borei Referral Hospital.
Vor said his son had told the police officer, “If you don’t have any issue I will go home,” before turning to leave, at which point Piseth pulled out his gun and shot him in the back.
“It is a brutal act, amounting to attempted murder,” Vor said.
“There was no argument between them, and why would a police officer fire a gun at a vulnerable person without any weapon?” he asked.
A copy of the court complaint obtained said that on Thursday 27, that about 10:30pm, the victim was driving a motorbike with his friend riding pillion on their way homefrom playing Top G and Mobile Games in Nimit commune’s Nimit village I. Makara then saw that his friends had been pulled over by a police officer, so he stopped to check on the situation.
“At that time, I came to ask the police officer what was going on,” Makara said in the complaint. “The officer said, ‘How strong are you? Please come if you are daring enough.’”
“I did not reply much and just said that if there is nothing wrong, I have to go home. Then I turned to my motorbike to return home, and the police officer came [behind me] and took out his gun and shot at me,” he said in the complaint.
Nimit Commune Police Chief Ma Rin confirmed on August 31 that Rithy Pesith had been arrested on the morning of August 31 and is being questioned at the Poipet City police station.
“He was arrested today as the main suspect in the shooting of [the victim],” he said, referring detailed questions to his superior, Poipet City Police Chief Thin Sindeth.
Rin added that Piseth had only recently been promoted to deputy police chief of the commune.
Sindeth, however, defended his subordinate, saying he had no intention to shoot the victim and had “accidentally discharged his gun”. He added that Piseth was being questioned at the provincial police’s serious penal crimes bureau.
“He was neglectful while using his weapon, but he had no intention to cause the victim injury,” Sindeth said. “He was negligent but his use of the weapon was still limited.”
Sindeth said that the victim was a known suspected drug userand gangster.
“Our commune police had called him in to be educated once before, and he had been placed on a watch list,” he said.
Sindeth said that on the night of August 27, commune police officials were on a routine motorbike patrol, and had seized two swords from two teenagers shortly before they encountered the victim. They had asked to search Makara, but he refused, and then called out to his two friends who were riding the motorbike that Piseth had pulled over, the police chief said.
“During the argument, the victim’s side had attempted to fight [police], so our officer took out his gun to scare them, and it was discharged and hit the victim at the back,” Sindeth said.
Provincial Deputy Police Chief Sith Lous said that Piseth was sent to the court in line with procedures for officers who have been negligent in the line of duty.
“We have called him for questioning and found that he really did fire his gun and caused injury to a person, but there was no threat to his life,” he said.
“He was careless and discharged his gun, but he had no intention to shoot the victim,” Lous said, adding that all officers in Banteay Meanchey had received required weapons training from the provincial police commissioner.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, condemned the police officer’s shooting of a civilian.
“It is a violation of human rights, especially the right to life, which is stipulated by national and international law,” he said.
He called on the national police to act professionally and respect morality while carrying out their missions, and not to use their power to overstep the law.
Senkaruna said Adhoc’s investigation had shown that the officer did not accidentally discharge his gun, nor was he acting in self-defense when he shot the young man.
“The shot into the victim does not reflect self-defense — he was shot based [the officer’s] emotional reaction,” he said.
Senkaruna disagreed with the police force’s assertion that Piseth had “accidentally” discharged his gun, noting that a stray bullet that was unintentionally discharged would have been more likely to hit another object.
“We do not want to see this problem repeatedly happening because they are defending each other. We have to recognize the facts,” he said, adding that if the case is treated with impunity, more similar incidents are likely to occur.