Pretoria - A police officer who panicked and shot a fellow SAPS officer, paralysing the man, will cost the taxpayer dearly as the court found that the minister of police was liable for the damages.
Lucky Moshidi, a police constable at Dennilton in Limpopo, is claiming more than R12 million in damages in the Gauteng Provincial Division of the High Court in Pretoria from Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko and from SAPS officer James Matsobane.
Judge Mabel Jansen found that the minister was responsible for the damages as Matsobane was on official police business when he shot Moshidi.
Matsobane claimed he had shot the constable in self-defence, but the judge rejected this, saying it seemed more to be a question of “shooting first and then asking questions”.
Judge Jansen said as this case progressed, it became clear that a tragic chain of events occurred, which led to Moshidi, a fit and keen sportsman, being confined to a wheelchair.
Testifying on his actions, Matsobane said he had thought Moshidi was a robbery suspect who was about to shoot and kill him.
The incident happened when police arrested a robbery suspect who then agreed to point out the home of a second suspect on April 30, 2009, in Siyabuswa.
When police got to the house, they knocked on the door, but no one opened.
The court was told that the officers then heard the sound of a window breaking and a suspect emerged.
Instead of running after the fleeing suspect, the six police officers on the scene fled for cover. Matsobane, holding on to the first suspect, ran to a neighbouring home, where he took cover behind an outside toilet.
He said he was wearing a bullet-proof vest and had his firearm in his hand, ready to shoot.
Matsobane said he suddenly saw a person standing in front of him.
While tightly gripping the first suspect to his side, Matsobane said he shouted “police”. The man standing in front of him shouted back “there are no police here”.
“I just panicked and shot him,” Matsobane told Judge Jansen.
The judge questioned why so many police officers had run for cover when they heard the window breaking. “This is incomprehensible. The police far outnumbered the one suspect… It is difficult to fathom why they sought to flee, save to conclude that bravery did not form part of their repertoire.”
After shooting Moshidi, Matsobane ran back to his colleagues to reassure them that he had apprehended the suspect. They, however, told him they had already arrested the man.
Matsobane told the court it never occurred to him that he had shot the wrong man.
“It is clear to the court that his mentality was one of “shoot and only then ask questions”, the judge said.
Matsobane testified that as the police were always under threat, they could not afford to wait for anyone to harm them first.
Moshidi testified that he was sleeping when he heard a commotion in his yard. Instead of identifying himself as being a policeman, Matsobane simply fired at him, he said.
The judge said SAPS members were trained to act reasonably and as calmly as possible in dangerous situations. She commented that it was clear that Matsobane simply went into a blind panic and fired.