Congressman backs probe into American film-maker’s death in custody

Jesse Phinney, who was found dead in a detention room in Cebu.

A congressman has supported calls for an investigation into the death of American film-maker Jesse Phinney in a Cebu police cell.

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officers said they found him hanging in his cell after he had been arrested under suspicion of human trafficking and child abuse on December 5 last year.


However, shortly after his death, a friend of Jesse contacted PLN to dispute this account. They said that, for one thing, the American never wore a belt. They also clarified that the minors he was accused of photographing in his Talisay City home were the children of his girlfriend.

As we reported last week, a US pathologist — privately hired by the 42-year-old’s grieving family — has now cast doubt on the official account of his death.

Dr Elizabeth Laposata said her autopsy found evidence of blunt force trauma and other marks on Jesse’s body that suggested he did not take his own life.


Following this fresh information, the Sun Star Cebu contacted Patricio Bernales, the director of the NBI unit involved in Jesse’s arrest, for comment.

In a text message reply to the newspaper, he refused to elaborate on the case, saying: “Sorry. Can’t comment. We are under probe. Hope you understand.”

Now, Cebu Representative Raul Del Mar has backed this investigation. In response to a text message query from online news site Tempo, he replied: “Police investigation is absolutely necessary.”

Superintendent Royina Garma, chief of the local Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, has confirmed that national headquarters had ordered a probe into the death.

The NBI began monitoring Jesse following a complaint from Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale, who also co-chairs the Provincial Women’s Commission.

After raiding his home, officers announced that they had seized high-end camera equipment, electrical devices, toys and children’s bikinis.

However, they failed to mention that Jesse was an eminent cinematographer and filmmaker, and that the children were his girlfriend’s.

Jesse worked on documentaries, television series and reality shows. Most recently he worked on National Geographic’s series Life Below Zero. Earlier in his career he worked with Donald Trump as a cameraman on The Apprentice.

Towards the end of his life he had been winding down his media career and was planning to start a new life building low-cost housing for poverty stricken people.