A district police chief in Prey Veng province was arrested on Wednesday, hours after he shot dead a bystander during a raid on a cockfighting ring, officials said.
The victim had been holding his infant son and standing on his own property—adjacent to the empty plot of land where others were gambling illegally—when he was struck by the only bullet fired in the afternoon raid. The round entered one side of the man’s head and exited the other, killing him instantly and causing him to drop the baby, who suffered minor injuries, according to Kem Phanny, deputy commander of the provincial military police.
Mr. Phanny said that Pom Kan, chief of police in Svay Antor district, where the incident took place, had fired his standard-issue K-59 pistol into the air to warn the gamblers not to run away, and fled the scene when the victim, Ke Im, 53, collapsed to the ground.
“We found the bullet casing about 10 meters from where the victim was standing when he was killed,” he said.
“It is wrong for a law enforcement officer to shoot someone dead, but I don’t think it was intentional; he shot in the air as a warning, but accidentally hit the victim.”
Mr. Phanny claimed that Mr. Kan turned himself in to provincial police within an hour after leaving the area.
Provincial police chief Sreng Chea said he ordered his officers to apprehend Mr. Kan after learning of the incident, but declined to say where, when or how the arrest took place.
“He told us that when he arrived [at the cockfighting ring], people were trying to run away, so he fired his weapon into the air, but that he did not know how the bullet hit the victim,” Brigadier General Chea said.
“We do not know the circumstances under which he fired his gun,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Chea said the shooter remained in custody at the provincial police headquarters and might be sent to the court today. He declined to answer further questions.
Yeng Voeun, 32, who said he had been watching the cockfighting but not gambling, said six or seven police officers showed up at about 3:50 p.m. and surrounded the group of 20 to 30 participants and spectators who had been standing in the empty lot in Prey Khla commune.
He said Mr. Kan approached the group alone and that no one made any move to run away, until the official drew his weapon.
“When I saw the district police chief take his pistol out, I ran to hide behind a house about 30 meters away. Then I heard the gunshot and people crying for help,” he said. “The victim had been standing on his land holding his son.”
“I will not watch cockfighting anymore.”
Mr. Voeun said that four or five days before the shooting, Mr. Kan visited the vacant lot, approached the victim, and inquired about who owned the land.
“The victim told him that the landowner is dead. Police continued: ‘We want to talk to the landowner.’ The victim said: ‘If you want to talk, you can go to the gravesite.’”
Kim Ly, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said a number of witnesses had given her similar accounts of the shooting.
“Witnesses said that the district police chief walked to the cockfighting location, pulled out his gun and shot. After he shot, he fled from the scene in his car,” Ms. Ly said.
She said some witnesses told her that the police chief appeared to single out his victim, shooting him intentionally, while others said he shot recklessly into the crowd.
In a strikingly similar case in November 2014, Chhay Oeun, a spectator at a cockfighting match in Tbong Khmum province, was shot dead during a police raid. Officers who participated in the operation claimed they fired warning shots into the air, and that a bullet ricocheted off a tree and hit the 25-year-old man in the chest, killing him instantly.
Six officers were suspended from duty over the incident but no charges were laid, while five participants were charged with illegal gambling.
Contacted on Thursday, Tbong Khmum provincial police chief Pram Bun Non said the six officers were still suspended and that the case was in the hands of officials at the Kompong Cham Provincial Court, as a courthouse had not been established in Tbong Khmum at the time of the raid.
Huot Vuthy, the chief prosecutor at the Kompong Cham court, refused to discuss the case.