‘Assault victim’ suing state over wrongful arrest

2011-03-24 00:00

A MANAGER at Vodacom at Gateway shopping mall in Durban, Riaan Underhill, told the high court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday that he was arrested at the store on July 10, 2008, and taken to Greenwood Park police station where he and a fellow employee, Brindley Small, were assaulted and tortured.

Underhill is suing the Minister of Safety and Security for R200 000 arising from what he says is wrongful arrest and detention as well as the assaults he endured.

The case is being defended by the state.

Underhill told Judge Kevin Swain that when he’d asked the arresting officer why he was taking him, he told him to “shut up”, took his arm and marched him to the police van. While in the back of the van at Greenwood Park police station he heard “screaming” and recognised the voice as that of Brindley Small.

After “about an hour” he was taken to a room in the station and a policeman advised him to “just tell the truth”.He didn’t know why he was there.

A policeman told him to look at Brindley Small who was lying on the floor, bleeding from his nose and mouth, and said if he did not want to “end up like him” he should tell the truth.

“A police officer asked me; where are the phones? and I said I didn’t know what he was talking about,”he said.

During questioning he was struck on the face, neck, the back of the head and on his side and chest, he alleged. At one stage an officer wrapped his arms round him from behind, pinning his arms to his body, and a dark blue rubber glove was pulled tightly over his face so he couldn’t breathe.

“He (the officer) was squeezing the glove in the front … it was choking me,” he said.

Underhill said the officers intermittently returned to question and assault Small. He said he was ordered to lie on the floor, face up, and a chair was put over him, wedging him to the floor. A policeman sat on his chest, another held down the chair and a third held his legs.

The glove was pulled over his face twice more.

“Then the officer on top of me began strangling me. He had both his hands round my neck. I told him not to kill me and he said I must die,” Underhill said.

Underhill said he told them he was not involved in crime and that his father-in-law was with the Scorpions. When his cellphone rang, one of the policemen answered it and it was his father-in-law who later arrived at the police station and took him away. At that point he was exhausted, his entire body was sore and felt “as if I’d been in a car accident”.

He said he laid a charge of assault against the police at Durban North, and the next day was examined by Dr Reggie Perumal. Police have never charged him with an offence, Underhill said.

He denied during cross-examination by advocate Dawn Bell, for the minister, that officers of the provincial business robbery unit had asked him to accompany them that day for questioning and accused him of lying to them about Small’s whereabouts, whom they were investigating.

In reply to questions by the court, the policemen concerned were identified as Inspectors Seebaluk, Inder and Kasrlall. The case is proceeding.

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