Police ‘attack’ probed

Christo van der Westhuizen recovering at home.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is investigating the alleged assault of a Hout Bay man by two police officers based at Sea Point police station.

Christo van der Westhuizen, 36, suffered bruising to his face and lacerations to one of his kidneys during the alleged attack while held at the station’s cells earlier this month.

The claim by Mr Van der Westhuizen comes in the same month that police have been accused of the murder of Hout Bay fisher Deurick van Blerk, allegedly shot by a SAPS anti-poaching unit in the waters off Chapman’s Peak on Saturday August 12 (“In murky waters”, Sentinel, August 17).

Sea Point police spokesperson, Captain Elizabeth Munro, confirmed an assault case was opened and is being investigated by IPID.

On the night of Saturday August 18, Mr Van der Westhuizen decided to go out with a friend in the Cape Town CBD, but after seeing that Long Street was quiet, the men decided to walk home to a flat he was staying at in Green Point.

Admitting he wanted to buy ecstasy, Mr Van der Westhuizen bought two tablets from a drug dealer in the area. He was also carrying “half a bankie” of dagga in his backpack.

When the men reached Boundary Road, a police vehicle approached them. He said they were searched by two officers, at which point he admitted that he was in possession of drugs and he was taken to the holding cells at Sea Point police station. His friend was not arrested.

Throughout the night, he said, police officers came into the cell “on the hour” as if deliberately trying to rob the inmates of sleep.

At 10am, he said, a police inspector arrived to assess the inmates’ cases. “I told the inspector I made a mistake and made a stupid decision. He said had I only been caught with weed, I might have been released, but because I had been caught with ecstasy my case was more serious.

“I still had not been given my phone call, so I kept asking. The officers told me only the detectives could give me permission to make the call. This went on for hours and eventually after 7pm I decided I would try to sleep.”

At 7am on Monday August 20, he said two officers – one who he identified as a Captain Swarts – came into the cell, and again he asked about his phone call.

“Swarts told me I already had made my phone call, but I told him I hadn’t. Then he got aggressive with me. When I told him that he was infringing on my rights, that’s when things changed.”

According to Mr Van der Westhuizen, the captain and his colleague grabbed him around his neck and on his side, pushing him backwards.

“His colleague also kicked me, and I lost my balance and fell to the floor. Swarts then sat on my stomach and punched me in the right eye. I was trying to sit up, but as I did this his colleague kicked me several times in the back. I was holding Swarts to stop him from hitting me, but he told me his glasses had fallen off and if they were broken, he would kill me.

“As the captain got off my chest, he kicked me twice in the face. I then jumped up and told him I am not a criminal and should not be treated like this just because I had made a mistake. He then called me a drug addict. His colleague then kicked me in the chest again.”

He said two female officers then entered the cell, one of whom told the captain that Mr Van der Westhuizen indeed had not been allowed to make a phone call and that he had been requesting this since the day before.

“As all four of them left, I told the captain I would be coming back to the police station to open an assault case against them. He told me, ‘You’re not coming back, you’re going to Pollsmoor.”

Later that morning, Mr Van der Westhuizen was transported to Cape Town Central police station. “By this time, the pain had begun to set in. I was telling police officers that I had been brutalised, but they ignored me. I was placed in a tiny cell with about 100 other people.”

At 11am, he was called to be transported to the community court in the CBD but could “hardly move” for the pain.

At 2.30pm, he appeared in court, where the magistrate deemed that he would have to enter a drug rehabilitation programme at the community court.

Upon his release, he immediately returned to Cape Town Central police station to lay a complaint against the two officers who allegedly assaulted him. He said a friend who joined him was outraged at his treatment, and was making quite a scene at the station.

He said the officer he spoke to, a Captain Fourie, appeared to be wanting to dissuade him from pursuing the case, saying he was in an “emotional state”.

Undeterred, he started filling in the required forms to open a case, when the officer returned and took him to another policeman.

“This new officer told me police were not allowed to assault people, and he then called Captain (Elizabeth) Munro at Sea Point police station. I was then taken back to Sea Point.”

When he arrived, he said, he saw Captain Swarts and his colleague were still on duty. “When they saw me, their eyes popped out of their heads.”

He then made a statement with Captain Munro, who also took him home, he said.

On Tuesday last week, August 21, Mr Van der Westhuizen contacted his attorney, Mary Wood, who insisted he go to a doctor. He was found to have suffered lacerations to one of his kidneys, and he was admitted to Somerset Hospital for treatment.

Mr Van der Westhuizen has been recovering at the home of his girlfriend in Hout Bay but remains largely bed-ridden.

“There is injustice in the justice system. All the people in the cells with me were young, 18 to 28 years old, and all of them were in for possession or drunkenness. There were no serious criminals in there,” he said.

“They’re targeting people who are using drugs, people who maybe are trying to escape their problems, instead. If a person is addicted, they are not a criminal.

“I want those two officers arrested. Then they can go to Pollsmoor.”

Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, confirmed that Captain Henk Fourie consulted with Mr Van der Westhuizen.

“The complainant’s friend was shouting at the SAPS members in our community service centre. Captain Fourie had to calm them down. He gave instructions to a SAPS member to obtain a statement of assault and Colonel Roziers, who was the service duty officer, intervened by instructing Captain Fourie to telephonically contact Captain Munro of SAPS Sea Point to come to Cape Town Central,” he said.

“Captain Munro arrived and she then took the complainant and his friend to Sea Point SAPS where the case docket was concluded. This further enhanced SAPS service delivery to Mr Van der Westhuizen. Mr Van der Westhuizen was served with excellence and it is a perception that he was discouraged to open a case of assault against SAPS members.”

Queries sent to IPID spokesperson, Moses Dlamini on Tuesday were not responded to.