A district police chief who fatally shot a bystander in the head during a raid on a cockfighting ring in Prey Veng province on Wednesday told the local court on Friday that he discharged the round as illegal gamblers rushed toward him, according to a court official, contradicting his earlier claims that he fired a warning shot as they attempted to flee.
Pom Kan, chief of police in Svay Antor district, was arrested on Wednesday after shooting Ke Im, 37, who had been holding his infant son and standing on his own property when police descended on the cockfighting ring, which had been set up on an empty plot of land adjacent to his own.
Mr. Kan initially told police that he did not know how a bullet he fired into the air as a warning could have entered one side of Ke Im’s head and exited the other, though investigators seemed less than convinced.
Under questioning at the Prey Veng Provincial Court Friday, Mr. Kan changed his story, according to chief prosecutor Seng Sopheak.
“He told us that he cocked his gun and shot into the air as a warning because the people ran toward him as he approached the cockfighting ring alone,” Mr. Sopheak said.
“He did not shoot the victim intentionally because [Ke Im] was not even one of those at the cockfighting event,” he said, adding that the suspect would be handed over to an investigating judge on Saturday.
According to police and witnesses, Mr. Kan showed up at the cockfighting ring in Prey Khla commune with about six officers, but approached the group of 20 to 30 gamblers alone. After firing the shot that killed Ke Im, he retreated to his car and drove away.
Kim Ly, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he had been interviewing witnesses, some saying the police chief had appeared to target Ke Im, some saying he shot into the crowd of gamblers and spectators as they attempted to flee.
She said that Mr. Kan’s latest claim—that the gamblers had been running toward him—was not consistent with her findings.
“This is an excuse. About 10 eyewitnesses said they saw the district police chief approach the cockfighting ring chanting ‘Arrest them all,’ and that he was holding his gun ready to shoot,” she said. “No one ran toward the police. They were scared of being arrested.”
A witness, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety, said the police chief had been dressed in a black T-shirt when he approached the gamblers, and that he did appear to shoot into the air, rather than directly at Ke Im.
“I saw him pull the gun from his waistband, cock it, and tilt his wrist upward a little bit before the weapon was discharged,” the witness said.
“The shooter was about two meters from the victim and I was only five meters away.”
Ke Im’s wife, Choem Men, who filed an intentional murder suit against Mr. Kan on Thursday, said she believed her husband was shot for failing to accommodate the police chief’s request for assistance several days earlier.
Two or three days before the shooting, Ms. Men said, a subordinate of the police chief phoned her husband and called him to the police station to ask him about the vacant lot next door. “My husband refused to go,” she said.
So the police chief came to her house instead, Ms. Men said, and proceeded to grill her husband over who owned the land, to which he had explained that the landowners had passed away, that their children had gone to Thailand to find work, and that he had no further information.
“He told my husband that he should report to police that next time the cockfighting is happening, but my husband said he would not dare because he did not want the neighbors to hate us,” she said.
Ms. Men said she had witnessed the shooting personally.
“People were fleeing and he took out his gun and shot my husband directly. People ran away; no one ran toward him as he has said,” she said.