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Family suspects foul play after brother dies in police custody

A family is struggling to come to terms with brother’s death while in police custody, it suspects foul play. Alwyn Andre Otto was said to have hanged himself in prison. Picture: Supplied

A family is struggling to come to terms with brother’s death while in police custody, it suspects foul play. Alwyn Andre Otto was said to have hanged himself in prison. Picture: Supplied

Published May 8, 2021


Cape Town - While Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) ruled that no foul play was found in the mysterious death of a Gansbaai man, the family said they do not believe the findings.

Alwyn Andre Otto was said to have hanged himself in prison, but his family suspect foul play by police.

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Otto was arrested on February 7, he was arrested for contempt of court for a drunk-driving case that happened in the Eastern Cape and was also accused of abalone poaching.

On February 8, he appeared at the Hermanus Court. On the day of his death on February 10, his sister Natasha de Wet said he called their father to ask for a lawyer.

By 7pm that night, his family found out via a text from her friend that he was dead.

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Yesterday, Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola said they had conducted a preliminary investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Otto as mandated by the Ipid Act.

“When he appeared in Hermanus Magistrate’s Court, he was remanded in custody, to be later transferred to Warmer to appear in court there. Otto was found hanging in the police cells. The post-mortem was conducted, it confirmed that he dies as a result of hanging himself. According to Ipid’s findings, there is no indication of any third party or police involvement in his death. Ipid is currently investigating nine deaths in police custody cases,” said Cola.

Police spokesperson Colonel Andrè Traut said an investigation was conducted by Ipid after Otto was found dead in his cell.

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’’At the time of the incident, the deceased was alone in the cell. The initial investigation indicates that he committed suicide by hanging himself. A note was found on the deceased that will form part of the investigation. An inquest docket has been open for investigation,” said Traut.

A distraught De Wet, who was adopted along with Otto, said the family does not understand how the police said he had hanged himself with shoelaces as they had brought him flip flops.

On hearing about the findings, she said they did not believe it because, ’’the police has not been updating us or speaking to us’’.

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“The police said laces first then they said a rope was used," said De Wet.

“My brother never hurt anyone; he has lots of friends. My brother loved his life and would never do anything like that. Till today, if we phone the police, they can't say anything. They have a lot of stories. For me, it feels police are hiding some stuff away because they never phone back when they say they will,” said De Wet.

She added that it’s very sad not to have him at the house anymore. “We used to laugh at jokes he made and he helped me with my boys to get them to school. We never went to the beach again because he would always take my children to the beach, he loved the sea.

“From when he passed away, my children and I never went to the beach again. Our hearts are very sore. It is really hard for us to go on. This month it will be his birthday, he will turn 35 and now he is gone. It is really hard on us. My house is so quiet,” said De Wet.

De Wet, however, told the Weekend Argus that the handwriting in the note was not that of her brother. She also wondered where he got the necessary tools to write the letter.

Private investigator John Alexander from Royal investigations said while their investigation is ongoing they had learned that he was deprived of basic rights such as allowing him to bathe or informing his family about his arrest.

“Three months later and they (police) are yet to release his belongings, the rope he used to allegedly hang himself could not have been concealed on his person and or others. SAPS was negligent in their overall conduct. The deceased was not a violent offender neither was he found guilty of any offences he was accused of,” said Alexander.

An anonymous inmate, who is known to the Weekend Argus, said that he saw Otto being denied basic rights. In his statement after Otto’s death, he stated that there was no out-of-the-ordinary behaviour from Otto.

“He was positive irrespective of the way he was being treated by police staff, he was in good spirits. I know Mr Otto did not have a rope and his pants did not have a rope because it was removed. Also, given how the holding cell was constructed, there is no way he could hang himself without assistance from someone else,” said the inmate.

He added that the police staff were instructed by a superior not to talk or engage with Otto. The same superior, he alleged, had it out for Otto because of his alleged involvement in abalone poaching.

Otto’s eldest sister Gerda Senekal said his death has left her broken inside. “It was the biggest shock to hear that he committed suicide by hanging. It's not something that he would've done. When Natasha informed me about his death, and the way they found out (via WhatsApp from a friend, I knew something wasn't adding up. When she forwarded me a copy of his suicide note, I knew deep inside he didn't write it. All we want is closure and justice to be served. This, what we as a family are going through no family should have to go through, and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Senekal.

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