File photo: Independent Media

Nelspruit - A senior policewoman was killed at the KwaMhlanga police holding cells in Mpumalanga on Saturday, allegedly by an awaiting trial female prisoner suspected to be mentally ill, police said.

Provincial police spokesman Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said the 48-year-old officer was killed when she and other female police officers went to the cell to provide medication and clothes to a female suspect, as per standard procedure. He said the suspect was kept in a police cell after she appeared in the KwaMhlanga Magistrate’s Court on Thursday on other charges, which included assaulting another police officer.

“A female colonel walked into the cell to wake her [the female suspect] up, to which she did not respond. The suspect then jumped on the police officer, grabbed her by her hair, banged her head several times against the wall and bit her on the neck. Other colleagues tried to assist her but it was too late as she was already seriously injured. The officer was certified dead at the scene by paramedics,” Hlathi said.

The suspect previously attacked police officials while they were trying to apprehend her brother on another assault case at their home.

“She appeared in court on Thursday on two counts of malicious damage to property, assault, [and] resisting arrest, and her cases were postponed to September 7. She is now facing a further charge of murder of a police officer,” Hlathi said.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) spokesman Richard Mamabolo said the union was saddened by the death of the police officer and demanded to know why an awaiting trial prisoner suspected to be mentally ill was kept in a police holding cell.

“It is unfortunate that we have such a situation. We hope measures will be put in place in the future so that people are mentally checked to determine if they should be kept in police holding cells,” said Mamabolo.

Hlathi later said the suspect was kept in a police holding cell in accordance with the order of the KwaMhlanga Magistrate’s Court.