Family of man killed by ‘unfit’ cop sues state

2011-10-23 08:10

Horrific CCTV footage showing a policeman shooting and fatally wounding a man at point-blank range has been made public for the first time as his family prepares to sue Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the two cops involved in the incident.

The multimillion-rand lawsuit, which is set to be heard in the Thohoyandou High Court next month, once again highlights controversial “shoot-to-kill” statements made to police by senior politicians including Mthethwa and national police commissioner General Bheki Cele. Shonisani Lukoto (30) was shot at a Caltex Garage at Sibasa in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, on August 10 2007 after he tried to smash the windows of a car occupied by his wife, sister-in-law and children with his hands and wheel spanner.

The footage, captured on surveillance camera in the garage forecourt, shows police making no effort to physically restrain Lukoto prior to the shot being fired and not giving him any assistance as he lay bleeding with a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

At one point, as he tries to crawl into his car, they can be seen dragging him away from the open door.The incident took 40 seconds – from Lukoto arriving at the garage in pursuit of his wife after a violent domestic argument, to the shot being fired by Inspector Nkanukeni Raedani, a former police media spokesperson for Thohoyandou.

After viewing the footage this week, independent criminal justice researcher David Bruce said: “It’s difficult to avoid the impression that the use of deadly force in this instance was not a last resort.

“The situation would have been helped if the police had alternate weapons like batons or pepper spray. There is no doubt that with proper training, police would have the confidence to use non-lethal force in a situation like this.”

Hennie Erwee, a former police captain and lawyer representing the Lukoto family and the dead man’s dependants, said Raedani “exceeded his powers” and only reacted after the “danger to the people in the car had passed and Lukoto was at the back window of the vehicle”.

Lukoto died several days later in hospital. An inquest into his death conducted in 2009 by Thohoyandou’s acting Chief Magistrate Ailwei Willy Mudau was inconclusive. Mudau said he was unable to make a finding and “very much in doubt” as to whether police should have used lethal or non-lethal force.

In his evidence, Raedani said he had tried to speak to Lukoto to calm him down, but he had responded: “Voetsek. I cannot talk with stupid policemen.”His aim was to “rescue” the occupants of the car, and he “must use force to rescue people from the aggressive person. You could get killed and to make efforts to overpower that person is a risk.”

He was “intending to shoot (Lukoto) on the leg but (it) seems I shot him on the waist”.

He testified that he had fired a warning shot, a claim disputed by petrol attendants and occupants of the car Lukoto attacked. Only one spent cartridge case was found at the scene of the shooting.Lukoto’s brother Selby said this week he believed the two policemen involved in the incident “could have handled it in a different way”.

He said: “These people carry pepper spray. There was no need to use a gun. Those two big men could easily have restrained him. (Raedani) just shot a person because he was insulted. In our view (Raedani) acted brutally and negligently.

“How could a person who’s a distance away, holding a wheel spanner, be life-threatening to a policeman with a gun?”

Raedani, who joined the uniform branch of the police after serving in the communications department, was “not ready to cope with the situation because of a lack of basic training and not knowing when to apply maximum force”. Police ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said: “We cannot pre-empt the court process. Our legal team will deal with the matter in court. But generally when such cases are brought before court against the minister, they’re a bit embarrassing and worrisome because we don’t expect police to be the ones standing accused of crime. Instead they should be giving evidence.”

He said police must be tough in the fight against crime but should act within the law. The case is set to be heard on November 23.

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