Monday, July 15, 2024

Mahalapye police didn’t take mob-attack victim to hospital because he looked ‘fit’

Examining Keamogetse Kethaile two days after he suffered what sounds like a bare-knuckle, prison-rules beatdown, a doctor at the Mahalapye Hospital determined that he was in a really bad shape. In terms of established policy and practice, the police were supposed to have taken Kethaile to the hospital for immediate medical attention. That didn’t happen. He was instead locked up in the cell and only released two days later.

From a second-hand account relayed by the Mahalapye Police Station Commander, Superintendent Isaac Mamadi, the inspector who oversaw Kethaile’s booking said that not only did the latter not look “fit”, he never indicated that he had sustained any injuries that needed medical attention. Conversely, Kethaile looked anything but fit to the doctor. The latter’s entries in the former’s medical card three days later tell a completely different story. Reading a doctor’s handwriting is always difficult but the readable, non-hieroglyphic part indicates that when Kethaile was examined on the third day after the beating, he reported that both his feet were “painful” after “being beaten by colleagues”, that he had “multiple bruising” on his back, that a blood clot was visible under the nail of an unidentified index finger and that he was “clearly walking in a limp.”

Kethaile’s own account is that not only did the police officers see that he had sustained injuries, he told them so himself and that he needed to see a doctor. He alleges that they not only ignored his pleas but brutalized him themselves. That is just one part of this bizarre, he-said-he-said policing story which starts on May 16 when Kethaile was walking the streets of Mahalapye with a friend. The pair came upon another boy chatting with his girlfriend. Kethaile’s friend greeted the girl with “Yes babe”, something the boyfriend took offence to because he thought it disrespectful to him personally. Then followed an invective-laced exchange which Kethaile swears he was never part of. The confrontation evolved in an escalatory fashion and at its most dramatic high point, the friend whipped out a jack knife and attacked the boyfriend.

Much later, the assault precipitated an all-male torches-and-pitchforks flash mob which made a beeline for Kethaile’s home, revenge top of mind. Kethaile was not yet home and the mob left after making it clear to his mother what its mission was about. A while later and way before Kethaile got home, police officers also came by looking for him. When he did get home, his mother, Mary Kethaile, told him about the police and advised him to go to the police station. He did but the stabbing victim’s friends pounced on him at the gate before he could go inside the station. The men bundled him into a car and drove to the hospital ÔÇô which is not far from the police station ÔÇô and to the men’s ward where the stabbing victim friend lay on a bed, feeble, bandaged and stitched up. The purpose of this trip was to show Kethaile what he had done to the friend and despite his protestations that he was not the stabber, the mob would have none of it. When a female police officer happened by, the men told her that Kethaile had stabbed their friend and asked her to handcuff him. She did so and in terms of police procedure, Kethaile was, from that moment on, in police custody and the officer should not have let him out of her sight. Somehow that didn’t happen and Kethaile and the officer separated.

The mob marched Kethaile back into the car and drove to Malepe, a farming hamlet west of Mahalapye where his own family has a ploughing field. There in a clump of winter-greyed vegetation, the mob set about torturing him, mostly through foot-whipping. His repeated protestations of innocence fell on deaf ears and in the middle of this beatdown ÔÇô which happened while Kethaile was still in handcuffs, the cellphone of one of the assailants beeped into life. The cellphone owner extricated himself from the melee to take the call and after speaking awhile on it, announced to his friends that the caller was the police officer and she wanted her handcuffs back. To Kethaile’s mother, this is proof positive that the police officer was in cahoots with the assailants.

“How else would she have known the cellphone number of the man she called?” poses the mother, who alleges that police officers who came to the family home looking for her son made some personal disapproving comments about the quality of her parenting.

Kethaile was driven back to Mahalapye and onward to the police station where he was handed over to officers manning the charge office. There his day got worse by many orders of magnitude.

By his account, effort to give his side of the story proved unavailing as the officers wouldn’t listen to a word he was saying. He says that on getting one side of the story from the mob, a stern-faced female officer tightened the handcuffs around his wrists. Another female officer took to the cell area where he says she repeatedly struck him hard across the face with an open hand.

“My whole body was so numb from the beating in Malepe that I didn’t even feel the pain,” says Kethaile, adding that at this point, he couldn’t even stand up straight and tottered around the cell on his knees.

Mamadi’s version is brief. He says that his station has opened two cases against Kethaile: one relating to the stabbing and the other to being part of errant youth who threw bottles at some people in the village. Sunday Standard doesn’t have sufficient details about the latter and for his part, Kethaile denies both charges. Another murky aspect is whether Kethaile has been charged. Both he and his mother say that he has not been charged. The latter met Mamadi on Thursday morning and says she asked a direct question about whether her son had been charged with the stabbing and that the response was negative. Mamadi refutes that claim saying that Kethaile has been charged. Oddly though, suspects are fingerprinted and Kethaile says that almost a month after the incident, he has not been fingerprinted. Mamadi says he is “not sure” about the fingerprinting and says that the station’s computer system suffered a virus attack last month.

With regard to the stabbing charge, Kethaile says that he was actually the one who tried to broker peace between his culprit friend and the miffed boyfriend. He says that at one point he separated the combatants when the former was atop the latter and peppering him with a flurry of well-aimed fists to the head and torso. On the other hand, Mamadi says that Kethaile cannot be absolved of responsibility because he was present during the stabbing.

“Why should he be excluded?” he asks rhetorically.

Mamadi also denies that an officer from his station handcuffed Kethaile and disappeared. “Who is that police officer?” he queries, adding that he would definitely know if it was one of his own. “It was probably a security guard and if that is the case, we have no way of knowing.” Conversely, Kethaile insists that he was handcuffed by a woman wearing the distinctive Botswana Police Service (BPS) uniform. He especially remembers that she was wearing the Botswana Police Service-issue baseball-style cap with a black-and-white band that has a horizontal geometric pattern around the base of the crown. He says that the handcuffs were taken off right inside the charge office when the men who assaulted him handed him over to the police. Face scalded with disgust, the owner is supposed to have made a fuss about her handcuffs being returned with blood stains. Supposing Kethaile’s version is accurate, there would be evidence (in the form of easily obtainable phone records) of the number of a female police officer who was on duty at the time in question calling the number of one of the men who assaulted Kethaile.

The analysis of a very senior government lawyer is that the manner in which Kethaile came into the hands of the mob and was transported to Malepe meets the legal definition of abduction. Conversely, Mamadi says that “if people drag you off from point A and assault you at point B, an abduction case cannot be competently made in terms of the law.”


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