Sunday, September 27, 2020

Police officers in court for ‘negligent shooting’ of suspects

On Tuesday, three police officers appeared before Justice Terence Rannowane to face a lawsuit over allegedly shooting innocent people. Detectives Merimentsi and Philip Moeng gave evidence before the Francistown High Court of how they shot at Hebert Dingaan Makhumalo, Lesetse Kwatlhao and Keitumetse Kelefe.

According to the plaintiff, Herbert Makhumalo, on the 14 of June, they set out for the hills near Ruretse in Gaborone for prayers as they are Zion Christian Church members. Upon finishing their prayers at 9 pm, they were confronted by a vehicle with its headlights focusing on them. They tried to investigate who was in the car but the car sped away.

They then drove to Phakalane mall and the same car emerged and parked in front of them. They approached the driver to ask why he was following them and he ignored them and drove away. Makhumalo and his friends decided to follow the stranger until the Phakalane circle. While they were following the stranger, another vehicle overtook them and went into the left lane and they slowed down.

“When we approached the Hyundai Circle, another vehicle emerged from behind and we decided to try to overtake the stranger in front but we could not as he increased his speed,” he said.

Makhumalo further indicated that when they reached the circle there was another vehicle blocking the road which appeared to be an Isuzu bakkie.

“A stranger got out of the car masking his face with a balaclava and an overall. He pointed a gun at us and immediately we swung to the other side of the road to escape because we thought we were being hijacked. The man started shooting at us and we were chased until we reached Molapo Crossing Circle,” he said.

He added that when they were being chased, one of his friends, Keitumetse Kelefe, was shot and a bullet fractured his fingers. They drove until they reached Gaborone West Police Station where they were attended by police officers.

Makhumalo pointed out that after 2 minutes the people who had been chasing them arrived at the police station and they then identified themselves as police officers. They then proceeded to search their vehicle and the injured Kelefe was taken to hospital for treatment.

Kelefe, who confirmed that police shot him, also produced a doctor’s report that stated that he was shot in the hand, fracturing his fingers that his fingers, causing him to lose full use of his fingers.

He pointed out that he no longer performs normal duties like cooking and working at his farm, adding that his life had become miserable as he experiences pains in his fingers often, especially during cold weather.
He urged the court to assist him in getting compensation from the Attorney General Chambers for P750 000.

The defendant, Detective Lebitso Merimintsi, dismissed the evidence led by plaintiffs. He told court that during the night of the 14 June 2005, they received a report over police radio that a certain man called Stewart had reported that there was a suspicious vehicle, which he suspected to be driven by robbers.

A team of six police officers was selected and he was to lead the team. They divided themselves into three groups of two.
“My colleagues proceeded to Phakalane where the metallic silver corolla was alleged to be and they located it near the fire brigade,” he said.
Merimentsi further pointed out that he drove to the Hyundai circle where he created a block on the road, packing a white unmarked van bearing BX numbers. He then requested for assistance from the Special Support Unit and said that Phakalane Police Station also responded and sent another car to assist.

“I saw the Corolla coming and I waved my hand shouting, trying to order it to stop but, instead, the driver ignored me and swerved into the other lane where he sped off. The team that was involved in that operation that night had two AK47 rifles and I had a pistol in my possession. I fired a warning shot into the air but the car did not stop.”

He said they then chased the car with the assistance of other Police officers. He denied that he wore a balaclava and overalls, saying that it is not allowed in the police force. Merimentsi further indicated that he fired the second shot during the chase and hit the rear wheel of the car.

“I shot at the car with intention to disable the car from escaping, as is required by the Police Act, not to injure or harm the occupants of the car.”

As they heading into Gaborone West, they required help from the Gaborone West Police Station to help them apprehend the suspects.

“With the assistance of the Gaborone West police officers we managed to block the speeding car as there was no way they could escape and we identified ourselves to the three men. One of the suspects had been shot in the hand and the station commander at the Station required that he be referred to the hospital.”

The attorney representing the plaintiff referred to the matter as “negligent shooting by the police”.
He further indicated that the suspects had to escape because the police vehicles were unmarked, saying anyone would think that they were being hijacked.

Detective Constable Philip Moeng, who also shot at the suspects’ car, gave evidence in court and said that he fired three bullets to disable the speeding car since the drivers were speeding and ignoring police orders to stop. He admitted that one of the shots from the AK47 hit the rear window of the car without any intention of harming the passengers but wanting to disable the car.

He further disputed that the suspects could not see that they were being stopped by police officers as the vehicles bore BX numbers.

The defendants were represented by Counsel David Ditiro from the Attorney General Chambers. He brought to the court’s attention that the suspects could clearly see that there were being stopped by the police as the SSG vehicle was at the roadblock and they were in uniform.

The case continues.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.