Agnelo Valdaris ‘custody death’: Why was spot panchnama conducted a day after death, Bombay HC asks police

The panchnama was done by the Wadala GRP a day after the incident. The case was thereafter transferred to the CID and then to the CBI, on HC orders in 2014.

EVEN AS the CBI claimed that there was no sufficient evidence to charge eight police officers for murder in the alleged 2014 custodial death case of 25-year-old Agnelo Valdaris, the Bombay High Court on Thursday raised questions about the initial police probe.

While hearing a writ petition filed by Agnelo’s father Leonard Valdaris, seeking that the accused be charged with murder, a division bench of Justice B P Dharmadhikari and Justice Sadhana Jadhav asked why the spot panchnama of the place of incident, where Agnelo is claimed to have been run over by a local train in Wadala, was done more than 24 hours after his death. “Why was the panchnama done on the 19th, more than 24 hours later? Why was it not done immediately?” the court asked.

The panchnama was done by the Wadala GRP a day after the incident. The case was thereafter transferred to the CID and then to the CBI, on HC orders in 2014.

According to the CBI chargesheet, four men, including Agnelo, and a 15-year-old minor, were picked up by the Wadala GRP and kept in a lock-up in connection to a theft case. They were beaten up by the policemen with belts with one of them tied upside down. The men and the minor were also to subjected to sexual abuse. The chargesheet has claimed that Agnelo was taken out of the lock-up for a medical examination and was run over by a train when he was trying to escape on April 18, 2014. It also alleged that witnesses had seen Agnelo being escorted by two policemen and him coming under the train. However, other witnesses, including those picked up with Agnelo, have told the CBI that he was assaulted and was in no position to walk.

CBI counsel Hiten Venegaonkar submitted: “We had initially registered an FIR under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC. None of the witnesses have said that the injuries caused to them by the police were on vital parts or not a single bleeding injury. We found that the accused had manipulated station diary entries from April 15 to April 18. We have charged them for this and for dereliction of duty, but there is not sufficient evidence to charge them for murder.”

Payoshi Roy, representing Agnelo’s father Leonard, submitted that the injuries found on Agnelo’s body do not correspond with the injury caused by being run over by a train. Roy also pointed towards differing entries by the police in the lock-up registers and station diaries in Kurla and Wadala GRP, to show Agnelo’s whereabouts before the incident.

“The CBI chargesheet was initially based on Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the IPC, despite victims giving statements that they were sexually abused by the policemen. It took us three years for a chargesheet to be filed under Section 377 (unnatural sex),” Roy submitted. The HC on Thursday reserved its order on whether the murder charge can be added against the policemen.

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