Tragic end for KZN top cop

2014-02-22 00:00

WHEN Warrant Officer Basil Crouse got a letter transferring and demoting him last week, it was the final straw.

On Thursday afternoon, Crouse — who was facing trial for murder — fetched his three step-children from school, waited for them to go out to the shops, and then hanged himself in his shed.

The suicide marks the tragic climax of two years of bitter intrigue for the top KZN investigator, including the arrest of his brother — Captain Nico Crouse — among the alleged Cato Manor police “hit squad” on over 100 charges of murder and racketeering.

Basil Crouse was charged with the murder of one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most wanted men — alleged hitman Pat Mvubu — but insisted he had merely been doing his job.

Known as “Big Man”, the ex-rugby player was a law enforcement heavyweight in every sense, having helped crack KZN’s ATM bombing ring, caught the “sugarcane” serial killer Thozamile Taki, and tracked down the men who brutally raped three Durban students in Pennington. Though “tough as nails” and disliked by some colleagues, Crouse (47) was also known for emptying his wallet for needy people he came across. Just last week, he stopped in Umtentweni to pick up an injured monkey, and rushed it to the local vet. The huge man was seen crying after watching the animal put to sleep.

Yesterday, his wife Justine Larraman and a close colleague both alleged to Weekend Witness that it was “cruel treatment” by police superiors — and not his upcoming murder trial — that drove Crouse to kill himself.

The policeman was treated for depression at a Kingsway hospital in September last year.

Larraman found Crouse in the shed behind their old farmhouse home in Umtentweni on Thursday afternoon. Paramedics could not revive him.

She said a transfer order to Southport police station this month had likely triggered her husband’s decision. “One moment he was this big top cop, and next thing he was nothing.”

Larraman — herself an experienced officer who left the SAPS just 10 months ago — called for an independent investigation into the role “bullying” had played in her husband’s suicide. Specifically, Larraman revealed that Crouse was never suspended — as is standard for officers facing serious charges, and which happened to the more than two dozen officers charged with the Cato Manor murders. Instead, she alleged Crouse had been harassed, denied police resources and “isolated” in his office at the Port Shepstone organised crime unit for months on end — “just staring at four walls”.

“I’m in shock, but I can see how this happened,” she said. “You should either be suspended or put on active duty, but Basil was kept in this humiliating limbo — made to sit in his office, but not allowed to work dockets; prevented from using state vehicles; they even took back his laptop.”

Larraman said Crouse had prepared resignation papers in December, but had changed his mind and not filed them. However, she said a superior officer had sent copies of the original resignation papers to administrative authorities “behind his back”, triggering the cancellation of his medical aid and salary — a mistake rectified after Crouse’s protests last month.

“The ill-treatment was disgusting and never ended — they didn’t even invite him to the end-of-year function,” she said.

Larraman said she believed Crouse had been victimised for blowing the whistle on the misuse of police vehicles by the organised crime units on the KZN South Coast. She claimed that two officers investigating the murder charge against Crouse were themselves the subjects of reports he had filed. “There was bad blood. Basil reported the one guy for using the police vehicle for fishing expeditions, and the other guy for using his to go drinking at pubs — and these same officers are now investigating him!” She claimed her husband was not only innocent of murder, but that no crime had been committed in the shoot-out death of Mvubu.

One friend and colleague — who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals — alleged that: “Instead of suspending him, they made sure they made his life hell at work. They even replaced his laptop with an old one, they ignored grievance letters he sent, and then they finally transferred him to a police station without explanation. He was humiliated. There’s only so much a person can take. I can’t say the [murder] case played no part in his mind, but the state had huge problems with the prosecution, and he was dealing with that.”

However, just two weeks ago, Crouse allegedly told another friend that he was bitter about the murder prosecution. The friend said: “His words to me were that everything he did, he did in the line of duty and he could not sit in jail. He would rather skip the country before he went to jail.”

In addition to having three step-children, Crouse had one daughter of his own — whom “he lived for”, according to friends.

Provincial police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said: “The case against Basil was postponed until April 2014 and he was facing charges of murder, attempted murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.”

Two hours after Larraman’s allegations of bullying — and Crouse’s non-suspension — were put to him, Zwane responded by saying: “We could not get the response for now”.

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