As dusk approached on Jan 23, the body of 40-year-old C Sugumar lay still in the bushes by the road side, his hands bound behind his back.
His faced was covered in custard-yellow-looking powder but appeared peaceful. The youngest son of four siblings was no more.
Just an hour earlier, Sugumar had finished having a drink at a nearby food stall in Taman Sri Nanding, Hulu Langat.
He rode his motorcycle and parked outside a sundry shop along Persiaran Intan. The time was around 5.15pm.
He then walked into the shop and began muttering to himself in Bahasa Minangkabau, a Negri Sembilan dialect.
The shop assistant there paid no heed as the family which runs the sundry shop had become accustomed to Sugumar’s eccentric behaviour.
“We all knew that he had mental problems. But even though he is a little crazy, he does not disturb others. He is the warm type and will never fail to greet us,” said the 18-year-old youth, who helps out his father who owns the shop.
He was speaking to Malaysiakini yesterday about the events surrounding the most recent case of death in custody that took place in Hulu Langat, Selangor last week.
The shop assistant's 52-year-old father requested the family’s names to be withheld. The father expressed concern as some 30 police officers from the Shah Alam Contingent Headquarters descended on their town on Jan 26 to record statements from several people.
“They (police) questioned people, drafted the statements, then asked people to sign them,” he said. At this moment, two plainclothes officers were seen taking photographs outside his shop from across the road.
His son explained that after briefly stopping by the shop, Sugumaran walked out and got onto his motorcycle.
“But then he got off his motorcycle again and slammed his helmet onto the ground. I don’t know whether he was angry or he was just doing it on purpose,” he said.
Not surprised by Sugumar’s strange behaviour, the teenager ignored him and departed after loading his motorcycle with a cooking gas tank for delivery to a customer nearby.
“When I came back to the shop at around 5.30pm, I saw him (Sugumar) across the road,” he explained.
Sugumar had moved his motorcycle to the T-junction of Jalan Nilam 1/1, just 50m away from the sundry shop.
There, he had frightened away a Burmese immigrant collecting used metal on a trishaw.
He then retrieved what appeared to be a hammer from the abandoned trishaw and began hitting a ‘Stop’ sign at the T-junction and also a nearby car.
‘He was a good boy’
Despite this behaviour, the shop assistant’s father insisted that little damage was done and described Sugumar as a “good boy”.
“Yes, he is unstable but he shouldn’t need to die like that. What if it were our own son? He was a good boy.
“He always greets me when he sees me. Even when I deliver gas to his family house, he knows I am Muslim and would lead the family dog away,” he said.
After the hitting incident, Sugumar, who had a strong build, carried his motorcycle and placed it onto the trishaw’s cargo area before pushing it to the intersection of Jalan Nilam 1/1 and Jalan Intan.
There, he took a left turn and proceeded to push the trishaw along the length of houses along Jalan Intan, which was 300m long.
Halfway through, the shop assistant said a police vehicle appeared from behind, at the other end of Jalan Intan. This was when Sugumaran abandoned the trishaw as he was pursued by the police.
It is unclear what happened during the pursuit, but Sugumar is believed to have ran until the end of Jalan Intan into Jalan Nilam where he took a right turn onto the main road, Jalan Hulu Langat.
He crossed the main road and continued running in the direction of Taman Perkasa, at which point a police motorcycle had joined in the chase.
After about 400m, members of the public in the shops along Jalan Lagenda Suria 1, a parallel road adjacent to Jalan Hulu Langat, witnessed the commotion and decided to join in to stop what appeared to be a fleeing criminal.
Directly across the main road of the scene was a bus stop and a KK mart.
‘Handcuffed and beaten’
“The police were chasing him (Sugumur), so people may have thought him to be a criminal.
About 15 people then ran across the road (to where they were) and helped restrain him together with the police,” said eyewitness T Panirselvam (right), 46.
Panir had rushed to the site (photos below) from a shophouse Hindu temple behind a Petronas station less than 200m from the incident after he was alerted to it.
“When I arrived, he (Sugumar) was already in handcuffs but the crowd continued to beat him,” he said. The time was around 6.15pm.
However, contrary to previous reports, Panirselvam said three police officers were at the scene and only one had joined in the beating with the public.
Asked why Sugumar was still being beaten despite already being in handcuffs, he explained that the victim was still struggling at that time.
“After that another officer rubbed something on his (Sugumar’s) face, I didn’t know what powder it was then but I later found out it was turmeric powder,” he said.
Asked if he was certain this was done by the police, he replied, “Yes, I saw the officer carrying a packet of the powder.”
He described this police officer as short, bald and with a potbelly.
However, the reason behind the turmeric powder remains a mystery.
“After that, a third officer came and stepped on the back of his (Sugumar’s) neck until he stopped struggling.
“I’m not a doctor to declare him dead, but I think he was no longer alive (at that point),” he said Panirselvam.
Following Suguram's death, the police after a post mortem at Serdang Hospital declared that a blockage in the heart as the cause of death.
However the family was unconvinced and is seeking a second autopsy. They also reject the police's latest statement that an inquest will be held.
They want the suspects arrested and the case be investigated for murder.