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EXPERIENCED police officers who were found to have illegally entered and searched a man’s home at midnight and tortured him there should have understood their actions were unconstitutional, said a judge.

The Port Elizabeth High Court last week awarded Thobela Julius Funde R110000 in damages for invasion of privacy and assault, arising from a police raid on his home in Kwadwesi, Port Elizabeth, five years ago.

The officers who led the raid were named as Captain Sakhele Matomane and a Warrant Officer Sitinga. They had been police officers for 21 years and 20 years respectively.

They claimed they were searching for dagga after a tip-off, but the court found that Funde’s version was more reliable and ordered the Minister of Police to pay Funde a “modest” R110 000 in damages.

Judge Judith Roberson said it was a serious invasion of privacy and called the assault severe.

Funde’s wife and child were sent to another room in the house, and Funde was handcuffed and made to lie on the floor.

“Matomane produced a plastic glove and put it over the plaintiff’s (Funde’s) head, with the result that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and the glove was taken off and he was revived with water,” said Judge Roberson.

“The process was repeated, and endured for half an hour to an hour. He thought he was going to die.

“He also felt humiliated at being subjected to this treatment in the presence of his family.”

The judge said the assault must have been terrifying. “He was at the mercy of two police officers. He was rendered helpless and impotent in his own home, while his wife and child were present, albeit it in another room.

“Matomane and Sitinga were unrepentant.”

The judge ordered that a copy of the judgment be sent to the Minister of Police and the SAPS national commissioner.

“Matomane and Sitinga were police officers prior to the enactment of the interim constitution, followed by the constitution. One would think that they would have comprehended the enormous shift which took place in relation to the protection of fundamental rights,” said Judge Roberson.

“I commented that they were unruffled during cross-examination. The glib manner in which they stood their ground tells me that they do not have a problem with the notion of torture.

“They are senior police officers. What sort of message do they send to their juniors? What effect does their conduct and that of police officers who commit similar abuses, have on the morale of the police force?”