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Pretoria - The police have to pay R100 000 to an elderly woman who was manhandled and locked up for a night in a filthy police cell without being told what she had done wrong.
This was the order of Pretoria High Court Judge Frans Kgomo on Wednesday, who said the police locked Floris Engelbrecht up at the Sunnyside police station “in the most inhumane conditions, without explaining anything to her - even to this day”.
The police admitted wrongdoing, but none of the culprits were called to explain their conduct to the court. The judge said if this had been done, it might have mitigated the amount of damages the police now had to pay.
Engelbrecht initially claimed R1 million in damages following her harrowing ordeal on the night of November 6, 2008. She was 64 at the time and is now 69.
She testified that she was asleep in her flat when she was woken by a noise in the early hours of the morning. She opened the door and told the people in the passage to be quiet, before she went back to sleep.
Engelbrecht later heard someone knocking and kicking at her door and before opening it, she fetched pepper spray. She opened the door but kept the security gate locked.
There were four men and a woman at the door and one of the men tried to punch her through the door. Out of fear and surprise, she aimed the pepper spray at them and squeezed the plunger. She went back inside and called the police.
Engelbrecht then heard her son scream outside and it appeared someone was assaulting him. She opened the door to let him in. Immediately afterwards two trainee constables arrived.
To her surprise one grabbed her by the arm and said: “Come, don’t waste my bloody f****** time. You are under arrest.”
They did not give her a chance to explain herself, nor did they explain why they were there.
She went to her room to change out of her pyjamas. While she was stark naked, one of the constables came in and told her: “Come, you are under arrest.”
He said he did not care whether she was naked or not and grabbed her arm. Her son came to her assistance and she managed to get dressed.
Engelbrecht was told to accompany the trainee constables to the police station. One took out his revolver and said: “I will shoot you dead if you dare walk away.”
She was roughly pulled towards the lift and shoved into a police van. Engelbrecht said she endured a trip from hell to the police station.
The police raced at top speed, only to put on brakes. She tossed and rolled in the back “like a piece of paper caught in a gust of wind or an unsecured doll”.
She was taken to a small room, where she had to wait for five hours before she was locked into a cell with three sleeping women.
Engelbrecht was given a “filthy, stinking” blanket which made her nauseous. She could not sleep and sat on some paper.
The cell was dirty, with blood spatters on the wall.
She sat there until the following morning. Two of her cellmates were taken away and the third told her she was in the cell for assault.
Engelbrecht told her she had no idea why she herself was there.
She was taken out of her cell around lunchtime and told to appear in court the next day.
She still had no idea what she had done wrong. Engelbrecht was only much later told her neighbour had laid a charge of assault against her for the pepper spray incident.
She appeared in court a few times before charges were withdrawn.
The judge said these days not even criminals were manhandled as Engelbrecht was.