Family slams SAPS for 'lying' about why NIU opened fire on their vehicle
Durban - A Durban family accused police of repeatedly lying to the media about why members of the National Intervention Unit (NIU) wrongfully riddled their car with gunfire, thinking they were a gang of hijackers.
According to eyewitnesses and a ballistic expert hired by the family, police had their guns pointed on the occupants of the vehicle, which is contrary to the version stated by the SAPS.
Police claimed the family were caught in the middle of a shootout between themselves and suspected hijackers, near the corner of Sheringham Road and Hill Street in Overport, on July 16.
Asma Mahomed’s right leg was amputated from below the knee after she was struck by a bullet that eventually lodged in her other leg, during the shooting incident.
Mahomed, 27, was in the early stages of pregnancy at the time.
She was seated behind her husband Omar Ismail, 29, who was driving their VW Polo.
Omar sustained gunshot wounds to his head, neck, and shoulders, and now lives with bullet fragments lodged in his head.
Their then 22-month-old daughter also had a narrow escape and only emerged with bullet grazes on her stomach and arms.
The Sunday Tribune has seen the letter which the family’s legal representatives sent to the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, on Friday, demanding an apology and retraction of the comments made by their spokesperson.
The family is also preparing their damages claim against the responsible authority and members involved in the shooting, the letter stated.
They claimed NIU members in a white BMW drove into the path of Omar’s vehicle as he neared Hill Street. Thereafter, “unlawfully and indiscriminately shooting” at his vehicle.
Omar attempted to navigate around the BMW but came to a standstill on Sheringham Road verge after more shots were fired through the rear of the car, in full view of residents.
Cele was informed about the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) investigation and that the family was “deeply incensed and disappointed with the lies issued by police”.
“Our clients believe members of the SAPS who committed this heinous act are covering up for their criminal deed, and an IOL article was cited, where a police spokesperson referred to the incident as a ‘botched hijacking’.
“The police have been systematically commenting in several other articles that our clients were shot in a crossfire. Such reports are misleading.
“Our clients have now lost confidence and have become afraid of the actions of the police, which is aggravated by lies uttered by senior police officials in press reports,” an extract from the letter read.
Cobus Steyl, of Forensic Ballistic Services, said: “All shots fired at the victim’s vehicle, from the front, side and back, were fired at the occupants.”
An eyewitness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, concurred that only a VW Polo and BMW were on the street at the time, and that the shots were fired by occupants of the BMW.
Ismail said he was driving home, which was a few hundred metres away from where the shooting occurred, that evening.
As he travelled on Sheringham Road, the BMW suddenly emerged from Hill Street and blocked his path.
Ismail believed they were about to be hijacked.
“Two people got out of the vehicle, and without warning, started to fire at us, and I ducked behind the steering wheel. Thinking they were hijackers because the car had no markings or blue lights flashing, I tried to drive around them, that’s when they shot from the side and behind.”
Ismail’s vehicle banged into the BMW, it halted on the pavement, and the sound of gunfire ceased.
Some residents thought the nearly 30 seconds of gunfire must have been related to gang activity, but when they heard the cries of the child, that notion was dispelled.
Inside the car, Ismail struggled to breathe after the bullet struck his head while Mahomed tried to remain calm and take charge of the situation, even though her right leg was shattered and hanging from a piece of skin.
“I could hear my wife calling my name, but I was unable to respond.
“She got me to recite a prayer as she feared the worst,” said Ismail.
Once Ismail regained composure, he called his mother-in-law Rehana Mahomed.
By then, one of the NIU members approached Ismail and said, “Sir are you OK”, to which Ismail responded: “I saw people in a white BMW who opened fire on us.”
The policemen denied any involvement in the shooting.
“Police must stop lying. If it was a hijacking, we have nothing to hide. If we were caught in crossfire, where is the evidence of bullets from the hijackers,” asked Mahomed.
Mahomed was previously a “sporty” person with a modern outlook to life, but accepts being confined to a wheelchair will hamper her quality of life and medical technologist career.
While the family is in regular need of medical assistance for their injuries, including trauma counselling, Mahomed’s biggest concern is the impact the incident would have on her young child.
“My daughter has been traumatised. Loud noises make her afraid. She saw her father’s head rocked backwards when he was shot and my dismembered right leg on top of my left. For the rest of her life, she will be afraid of travelling in a car at night.”
Mahomed said her visits to her gynaecologist were daunting “because we don’t know what the doctor will say about the progress of the pregnancy”.
Rehana said: “Asma is no longer going to be there for me. Now I have to be there for her.”
Ndileka Cola, the IPID’s spokesperson, said: “The scene was reconstructed to ascertain what happened. Ballistic experts examined the victim’s vehicle and we await the report.
“Doctors reports have been acquired, warning statements obtained from all five alleged suspects, and witness statements have also been obtained.
“When we finalise our investigation, a comprehensive report with recommendations will be sent to both the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority for action.”
The SAPS did not comment.