'Suicidal' cop may kill himself, court hears

2012-02-27 22:30
Johannesburg - A Soweto teenager was shot dead earlier this month while police were conducting a body search on him, the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court heard on Monday.

Student Constable Sipho Mbatha, accused of the killing, said in an affidavit: "I conducted a body search on him [the teenager] and it was at that time that he was fatally shot."

Mbatha's affidavit was read to the court by his lawyer Kenneth Manyage during his bail application.

He did not elaborate on how the shooting came about, but denied that he "unlawfully and intentionally killed the deceased".

The 41-year-old Mbatha allegedly shot dead 16-year-old Thato Mokoka in Braamfischerville Phase 2, Soweto on February 14.

The teenager was shot three times, apparently while lying on the ground on his stomach outside the home of his grandmother Sybil Mokoka.

On the run-up to shooting, Mbatha said: "Before entering the yard, we [police officers on duty] put our firearms on full automatic mode because it was our understanding that he was armed."

Mokoka was brought outside and ordered to lie on the ground before the body search was done, Mbatha said.

Monday's proceedings saw the State questioning a senior investigator at the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), Leon Naidoo, who was called to the scene of the shooting.

When asked if he thought there was a risk that Mbatha would take his own life if granted bail, Naidoo replied: "Yes."

When questioned by the defence, Naidoo said he heard about Mbatha's "suicidal tendencies" from his supervisors.

"There were talks of two [suicide attempts], but no one is willing to give statements... I went through his personal files but it was not noted."

Mbatha said in his affidavit the shooting happened after residents complained that the teenager had a firearm and was terrorising them.

Police went to his grandmother's house to investigate.

Naidoo said five police officers walked to the front of the yard while Mbatha had Mokoka pinned to the ground.

"The family and police heard shots go off... They saw him [Mbatha] throw his firearm on the ground... They noticed the deceased was shot several times in the head and back, and he [Mbatha] was moving away from the deceased," Naidoo said.

Opposing bail, Naidoo said local residents felt strongly about the shooting and were opposed to Mbatha being granted bail. Naidoo testified that the designated firearms officer at the Dobsonville police station earlier told him Mbatha was unstable and not allowed to carry a firearm. He said the firearms officer kept Mbatha in the office.

On the night of the crime, the commander on duty overruled the firearms officer by allowing Mbatha to go out.

The magistrate commented: "The court should call the person who issued the accused with the rifle. This would help clarify the allegations that the accused is unstable."

The magistrate asked Naidoo to explain the automatic mode on an R5 rifle.

"As I understand it, the slightest touch of the trigger can make it go off. Within a second it can basically be emptied."

Naidoo said such a rifle could have between 30 and 35 rounds.

ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini said he hoped the court would take the feelings of the community to heart in considering Mbatha's bail application.

"As the ICD, we take the killing of people by police officers very seriously. Therefore we expect that the court will make the right decision around bail."

The ICD is waiting for various statements and the post mortem report.

Mbatha's bail application was postponed to February 28.

- SAPA
Read more on:    icd  |  police  |  thato mokoka  |  sipho mbatha  |  johannesburg  |  police brutality
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