A Middelburg policeman who was assaulted in a “wrestling match” with a superior officer during an argument about his right to use an office fax machine has won the first round of his R3 million damages claim against his bosses.
Acting Judge Elmarie van der Schyff ruled in the High Court in Pretoria yesterday that the police minister was 100% liable for the damages sustained by policeman Sipho Vilakazi during an incident at the Middelburg police station in December 2009 when he was assaulted, unlawfully arrested and detained for four hours but never charged with any offence.
The actual amount of damages will be set later.
Vilakazi, who was a shop steward for a police union, testified that he had been suspended from the police, but defied his suspension and still went to work every day. His suspension and subsequent dismissal were nullified early in 2010.
Vilakazi said he was faxing labour union documents from an office at the detective services’ section with the permission of a clerk when a Lieutenant-Colonel Scheepers entered the office and told him he was not allowed to fax from there.
When he told the colonel that as a shop steward he could fax from anywhere, the colonel grabbed him and tried to pull him away from the machine.
He pushed the colonel away, but the man lost his temper and they started fighting.
The colonel kicked him in the face, tried to strangle him and caused him to black out before he was arrested and handcuffed.
He said he was acting in self-defence as he believed the colonel wanted to kill him.
A clerk who saw the altercation confirmed the colonel had started the fight.
The colonel and two warrant officers testified that Vilakazi was the aggressor and assaulted the colonel first, refused to leave and resisted arrest, but the judge found there were discrepancies and improbabilities in their evidence and that the colonel was the aggressor.
Although she accepted that Vilakazi’s defiant attitude had angered the colonel, his physical interference gave rise to the full-scale wrestling match in which Vilakazi was injured, she added.
She found that the police could not prove any justification for the assault or that Vilakazi had committed an offence in sending the faxes for which he was arrested.
By Ilse de Lange – firstname.lastname@example.org