Friday, May 14, 2021

‘Police-convenience’ detention costs taxpayer P5000-plus

The Gaborone High Court has ordered the government to pay P5000 to a taxi driver who was unlawfully detained by Molepolole police officers. In addition to that, the government will pay the legal costs of the plaintiff’s lawyer. Section 5 (4) of the constitution says that anyone who is detained unlawfully is entitled to compensatory damages.

The man in question, Moses Tankomane, was a suspect in a robbery that took place last year at Payless Supermarket in Molepolole. After picking him up and interrogating him at the police station, police officers broke off midway because they had to knock off for the day. Then they made the fateful decision of detaining Tankomane because they were not done with him. In his judgement, Justice Dr. Zein Kebonang asserts that this detention didn’t comport with the law. “The defence admitted that when the plaintiff was detained overnight, it wasn’t to conduct any investigations or follow up any leads but to allow the police to take time off work.

The plaintiff was certainly, therefore, not detained to clear any lingering police suspicion regarding his involvement in the armed robbery. He was detained at this point purely for the convenience of the police,” the judgement says. The law allows police officers to detain suspects if they believe there is “reasonable suspicion” for such detention. In the judge’s determination, “the information received by the police concerning the armed robbery was at the material time, sufficient to treat the plaintiff as a suspect and to lead to the initial arrest, even though the plaintiff was subsequently cleared of any links to the crime.”

However, Kebonang deemed the officers’ action to not have passed the reasonable-suspicion test when it came to the detention. Both the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act and the constitution permit the detention of suspects only on reasonable suspicion of an offence having been committed. “The detentions are not meant simply to keep a suspect in custody until he confesses,” says the judgement, adding that if the officers still suspected Tankomane of having been involved in the robbery and feared he might interfere with witnesses or tamper evidence, then they should have searched his home during the night of his detention.

“It seems to me that the defendant was content only with searching the plaintiff’s vehicle and nothing else. The car search had meanwhile cleared plaintiff of any suspicion of wrongdoing. On these facts, the answer to the question of whether the detention overnight was justifiable must be answered in the negative. In my view, the failure to complete the interview of the plaintiff and other suspects, did not justify their detention. It amounted to arbitrary detention and rendered the defendant liable as wrongdoers,” Kebonang says in his judgement.

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