Pretoria - Mixing up addresses during a police drug raid - and accusing an innocent man of being a Nigerian drug lord - will cost the taxpayer more than R70 000 in damages.
The victim, Benoni resident Sean Early, 54, who owns a plumbing business, instituted a R116 000 damages claim against the minister of police.
The Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Friday awarded him R10 441 for damage to his property, more specifically his front gate and electric fence, damaged during the raid. He also received R60 000 for the damage to his good name and reputation.
The minister of police, in his official capacity, was also ordered to pay Early’s legal costs.
Early told the Pretoria News he would not have been so livid with the police if they had simply apologised and offered to pay for the damages to his property. “They have not even come back to me to acknowledge their mistake. They did not even bother to return my calls,” Early said.
The mistake was the result of the police raiding the wrong address. Early lived at 44 4th Avenue, Northmead, Benoni. The raid was supposed to take place at 44 4th Street.
“The incident occurred three years ago but to this day, my neighbours give me the hairy eyeball. I feel like a criminal as they give me ‘the look’ when I leave my house,” Early said.
To make matters worse, the police made the same mistake twice after the first incident. But at least on those occasions someone was home to tell them they had the wrong address.
The police followed-up on information that there was a drug den in the neighbourhood. On January 16, 2014, the raided Early's house by mistake. He was on a business trip at the time with a friend.
“We were on our way to Musina, and about three hours away from my home when I got a call from one of his employees. He told me the police were breaking into my house, as it was “a drug den”.
Early alerted one of his neighbours to go to check. The police refused the neighbour entry into the premises and told him they were in the process of arresting “a Nigerian drug lord”.
The neighbour said that while raiding the property the police officers shouted “loud enough for the neighbours to hear that this property belonged to a drug lord”. Early said rumours are still rife in the area that he is a drug lord.
The police eventually left after they found nothing and realised their mistake. But they left some damage, as in their haste to get into the property, they damaged the gate and electrical fencing.
Early said he phoned the Benoni police station as he was extremely upset about his gate and electric fencing. “It looked as if a bulldozer went through it. I had just repaired my electric fencing the previous day.”
Both the metro police and the SAPS went to his house twice more looking for the “drug lord”. But Early said he told them each time that they had the wrong address.
His lawyer, Kondra Rontgen jr, said they were happy justice was finally done. “The police cannot simply act outside the law when it comes to compliance with procedure.” He said if they bothered to obtain a search warrant they would have realised that they had the wrong address.
Rontgen said police in any event had to check an address before simply raiding a house.
“They entered this property and went about their business as if they were entitled to be there.”