SAPS to pay R25 000 to bank clerk mistaken for drug dealer
Pretoria - The bank clerk who spent a night in a police cell after being mistaken for a drug dealer will receive R25 000 from the SAPS.
The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, said in this case a large amount in damages was not warranted. “One is expected to endure the daily hustle-and-bustle that life bestows upon one. Not all of those call for any compensation being offered,” Judge CJ van der Westhuizen said.
He added that while the arrest and incarceration of Lerato Mathe was unlawful, it could not be said that her ordeal was harrowing, although it was inconvenient.
Mathe initially claimed R200 000 in damages from the police following her ordeal on the late afternoon of November 24, 2016.
She left the Mamelodi branch of Capitec, where she worked, to meet friends in Sunnyside.
Mathe was standing along Kotze Street when a car pulled up in front of her. The three occupants identified themselves as police officers, although they were not wearing uniform.
They accused her of selling drugs on behalf of Nigerians. Mathe denied this and they told her to get into the car, where they searched her handbag.
An officer found 24 bank cards in her handbag and she was accused of being in possession of stolen property and thus providing a means to the Nigerians to launder money.
Mathe denied this and told the police that the bank provided her with the cards to be used when she consulted with clients.
The police then went to the Sunnyside branch of the bank, to verify her version. They were told that this was true, but that Mathe was not allowed to remove the cards from the bank. Mathe explained that she simply forgot to take it out of her bag when she left her office.
In spite of the bank manager confirming that the cards were not stolen, the police persisted in arresting her and took her to the police station, where she was detained until the next day. She was released and nothing came of the charges against her.
Although the counsel for the SAPS eventually admitted to the court that they had made a mistake in arresting her for no reason, this fact was kept mum until the eve of the trial.
The judge frowned upon the fact that the SAPS only then disclosed that they were not fighting the merits of the case. He commented that given the facts of this case, it’s clear that the police were in the wrong and it was wise of them to eventually concede this.
In deciding on how much damages Mathe should be awarded, the judge looked into aspects of how traumatic her stint in the cell was.
Mathe simply said she refused the bedding in the cell as it “smelt of dust” and that she did not want to use the toilet, as it was not clean. She also turned down the offer of bread and tinned fish in the cell.
According to her, she was kept mostly alone in a fairly big cell, which she only had to share for a few hours with an intoxicated woman.
The judge said it is true that the unlawful deprivation of one’s liberty warranted compensation.
According to the judge, there was no evidence before court whether the people in the vicinity where Mathe was picked-up by the police, knew they were SAPS officers, not that they could hear what they were saying to her.
Regarding her stay in the cell, the judge said she did not testify that it was worse than what one could expect of a place of incarceration of detainees on an ongoing basis, thus R25 000 in compensation was fitting in this case.