Dealings With The Police
Some two and a half years ago, I travelled to Isaan with my girlfriend and two of her children for her niece’s wedding. I had been living in Thailand for four years already and knew the family and the village well. I was looking forward to a few
days drunken debauchery. Little did I know.
We got to Bangkok on a Saturday – the wedding was on Sunday. I stayed with the kids whilst the other half went to collect some money someone owed her. She returned with the debt paid, a private taxi arrived and we were on the last leg of the journey.
Arrived at our destination to find a big party in full swing. Needless to say, everyone got blind drunk, fell over and went to sleep. The next morning at 5am I'm woken up to be told that the bride, my girlfriend and some other Thais are going to a neighbouring village to get the bride decked out and do the food shopping for the wedding. I went along.
While the women were doing their thing, I was drinking with the men. Then off to the market. Bought shed loads of food and were loading it onto the truck, when two police arrived and we were all arrested.
Now, bearing in mind that I've been drunk for two days and have had little sleep, it's not surprising that I haven’t got a clue what's going on. I ask my girlfriend, but she's equally in the dark. So, we're at the local police station and searched. It transpires that the truck we were in belonged to a local policeman. The family had rented it for the day. It was untaxed, which had drawn the attention of the police. They had got into the cabin and discovered an unlicenced gun in the glove compartment. On that basis, we were arrested. During the searches, another unlicenced gun was found in the handbag of a Thai lady – turned out she was the truck owner's mia noi.
At this stage, I'm trying to sober up, but am not too worried. After all, I'm a Westerner, a tourist and I've done nothing wrong.
Then the coup de grace. 75% of the money my girlfriend has collected in Bangkok is counterfeit. OUCH. Now I'm worried. All the Thais are interviewed. I am not as it's a Sunday and there's no one to do the translation. After interviews, the Thais are put in the holding cell. One of the arresting officers insists that I go as well. I politely refuse!!
Here's lesson number one. Be firm, but polite. I guess the only time I lost my temper was when I told the policeman that it would take three of them to get me behind bars. Anyway, my protestations brought the officer in charge out. He was decent. Sat me at a desk by the cell so I could talk to everyone. Asked if I was hungry, in which case the police would buy me food. I was told where the water and toilets were and that I could use them any time. Even given an ashtray so I could smoke. There was just one thing I couldn't do and that was leave the police station. I was under arrest. I suppose they really didn't know what to do with me.
My girlfriend had her mobile and I managed to contact a Western friend, who called the duty officer at the Embassy who then called the police. There was little he could do as it was a Sunday and the Consul wasn't there. I was asked if there was anyone I wanted him to contact in my home country, whether I was on any medication etc – the normal questions, I suppose. He then explained that I would be spending the night at the police station and going to court the next day. Wonderful. Was given the direct telephone number of the Consul.
It gets to 6pm and I'm politely asked to go into the cell. Shift's changing and it's getting dark. For those of you fortunate enough not to have been in one of these holding cells, I can assure you it's not a pleasant experience. Seriously hot – it was April time in Isaan. No air con or fan – guess what? Concrete floor, hole for a toilet and other than my Thai companions and a few other bad people, only mosquitoes and ants for company.
Well, I lasted about 2 hours. Stood up to have a cigarette and fainted. Fell into the bars of the cell and knocked myself unconscious. Apparently, the police thought I was dead. "Crazy farang commit suicide". Blood everywhere from a head wound. Eventually, the police agreed to take me and my girlfriend to hospital, where I got 20 stitches. Reluctantly, on doctor's orders, they allowed me to spend the night there on a drip. They returned at 10am the following day. I had no money to pay the hospital bill – it was all being checked – so one of the officers paid the 500 Baht out of his own pocket. I did repay him at a future date.
Back to the police station, where I'm interviewed. Two Thai English teachers are brought in to do the translating. It helps when you're innocent, have very few recollections of the alleged incidents and protest your innocence. Then off to another town in a meat wagon and court. Locked up for a few hours, then handcuffed and led down the street to see the judge. My girlfriend and I got out that day on a ridiculous amount of bail. She put her house and farm up as collateral. The others went to prison. After 5 days, the necessary paperwork was completed for the others to be released on bail. The two of us went home.
On the way, we spent a night in Bangkok and I saw the Embassy. They informed me that the police were charging me with printing the money. UNBELIEVABLE. The Embassy were further astounded by the fact that I was still in possession of my passport. I was advised to see recommended lawyers and leave the country ASAP. If I had done that, the girlfriend would have lost everything, so I refused to leave. Saw the lawyers, got the same advice and when asked how serious the charges would be if found guilty, the lawyer replied "15 years to life". I thought about leaving then.
Still, clung onto my innocence. Every 12 days we had to travel to the relevant courthouse to sign for bail. This was a 10-12 hour journey, each way. Saw a lot of the countryside. This went on for 3 months. Not a pleasant time in The Land of Smiles. Still, after the three months, all charges against me and two of the Thais were dropped. The matter never came to court. The others, including my girlfriend, went into the judicial process.
Throughout my ordeal, I learnt a couple of things. As I said before NEVER, EVER lose your temper with the officials. They are only doing their jobs. I know there are many horror stories of police corruption and abuse to foreigners, but I hope this story paints a different picture. Even the Chief of Police personally apologised to me for "the inconvenience" and invited me to his house to have dinner with him and his family. He was OK – I was lucky.
A year or so ago, I went back to my home country for a few months. Whilst away, my girlfriend and two Thais had their final court appearance. The two Thais got off, my girlfriend was sentenced to 5 years, or 1,000,000 baht fine. She paid the fine and was released after 4 days. Two days before I returned to Thailand, I got her sister on the mobile to be informed that she had been arrested again for the same sort of offences in roughly the same place. I helped a little bit with the bail and again she was released. I suppose I could turn this into yet another "possible / probable Thai rips off farang" scenario, but I won't bother.
The ex is still living in the same town as me. I haven’t seen nor heard from her since last November. I'm just enjoying myself with a new lady and definitely keeping clear of the police.
Scary to think what could have been…15 years!