This was the view of a criminal law expert, social media law expert and a private investigator in reaction to allegations that officers from a local security company were assaulting suspects before calling the police.
Reaction Unit South Africa (Rusa) officers allegedly assaulted a 26-year-old Upper Tongaat farm worker recently and ruptured his left ear.
Area councillor Mdu Cele alleged yesterday that there had been more than one assault by the security officers, but the alleged victims were too scared to report the incidents to the police.
“A recent one was on May 24 when guards assaulted Sandile Luleka for allegedly stealing ginger from one of the farms. The young man had had enough of the beating and admitted to the crime. He will tell you the story himself, but his was not the only incident. Earlier this year a girl was beaten up while another man escaped with an injured leg, just for either walking to their homes or for being suspected of being thieves.
“The man with a leg injury reported the assault to the police but nothing came of it, not even a case number. The young woman was too scared to go to the police. These guards are terrorising residents, and people are scared,” Cele said.
The 26-year-old Luleka said he thought the guards were going to kill him.
He said he and a colleague were called to the ginger farm where they were met by the security guards on their arrival.
“There were bags of ginger and we were asked who they belonged to. We said we didn’t know and the beating started.
“The other man was let go after a short while, but I remained the punching bag for the security guards. They were punching and kicking me. I lost my sense of hearing in one ear. I admitted that the bags were mine. I was later taken to the police station and then to court the next day,” he said.
The case was dismissed because of a lack of evidence. He then reported the matter to the police, was given a case number but nothing has happened about the case until now.
“The only way out of that beating was to admit to a crime I didn’t commit. The scary part is that these people are contracted by our neighbouring farmers, and some of us work on those farms.
“If you walk home late you don’t wish to cross paths with these people (security) because they don’t need a reason to beat people up,” he alleged.
These allegations were supported by Mzamo Gcaba, who lives in the same area, and said residents wanted the security company to be replaced.
Recent media reports alleged that officers from the same company had assaulted a rape suspect and posted a video of the assault on Facebook.
The video is yet to be authenticated.
William Booth, criminal law expert and chairman of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, said if security officers arrested a person committing a crime they must immediately call in the police because if a suspect was not warned of his constitutional rights, such as legal counsel and silence, among others, this could jeopardise the case later on, even if there was a strong case.
“What training do security personnel have in crime prevention and crime solving? Their training should include knowledge of the applicable law when arresting a suspect.
“Custody of evidence is crucial and a potentially watertight case could be jeopardised and an accused acquitted if the securing of evidence was not carefully controlled.
“Assaulting of suspects cannot be tolerated as this could result in cases being dismissed in court if there has been a breach of an accused’s constitutional rights,” he said.
Social media law expert Emma Sadlier said the difficulty with posting pictures of suspects on social media was that these could be shared by different people who were not even sure if the person had committed the crime.
“Provided that you have CCTV footage where this actual act was committed and there can be no room for negotiating otherwise, people can name and shame.
“My worry, though, is when it comes to identification of rape victims. Under South African law you can’t name sexual assault victims unless they consent to it.
“There are also statutory prohibitions under Section 153 of the Criminal Procedure Act which says that people who are accused of sexual offence or extortion or indecency cannot be named until they are asked to plead,” she said.
Private investigator Brad Nathanson agreed that a statement or confession taken from a suspect under duress could jeopardise a case. He said assaulting victims was a reality, but warned that some suspects lied about being assaulted.
“Some companies have adopted this style of beating the daylights out of crime suspects, and that should stop, for the sake of justice. If this continues, we will have case after case thrown out of court,” he said.
Provincial police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane confirmed the common assault case against the security company and said no arrests had been made.
Rusa spokesperson Prem Balram said his officers had denied assaulting suspects.
“The one you are referring to could have been injured in police custody. I’m concerned about these allegations so much that about three weeks ago I gave my men letters warning them against this and they all denied any wrongdoing. I warned them that if evidence was brought forward that they were guilty of these allegations, they’d be dealt with accordingly,” Balram said.