On July 24 2014, Johann Burmeister defeated the controversial case of theft (of a laptop) that was brought against him by the Knysna SAPS. It’s more than just a win. It’s an insight into the failure of police procedure and the abuse of power that is suppose to protect the public. It's confirmation of conspiracy.
On being found not guilty by Magistrate Derek Torlage, tears of relief and joy beautified the faces of both Johann and Denise, his wife who won the hearts of the public as she fought in newspapers and online to clear her husband's name. There were tears of anger too.
The situation smelt from the beginning because the facts available did not add up. Once all the facts were available, in court, they didn't add up either.
The 3 days of court drama carried every human emotion, from on-the-edge-of-your-seat expectation and anger (at witnesses trapping themselves in lies) to frustrating boredom as the the same witnesses seemed to mutter inanities such as "I dunno" (when they should know) a thousand times. Most importantly, there was overwhelming happiness and justifiable self-righteousness at the end.
Day 2 of the trial had Warrant Officer Christopher Appels in the dock first. His shift had followed after Sergeant Maurice Grootboom's and thus he'd signed for the evidence and property. Like Grootboom, he also claimed that Burmeister had the laptop. He then signed everything over to SAP13 clerk, Sergeant Carmen Coetzee who would later claim the same. So did her superior (and also SAP13 clerk) Warrant Officer Abraham Coetzer. Their superior, Captain Patrick Gogwana, followed suite.
Advocate Eduard Bruwer expressed the view of all in the public gallery when he stated that "something smelt rotten" about this case. He emphasised it later with a quote from Hamlet, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
The State's 'witnesses' felt rehearsed; badly rehearsed but rehearsed nonetheless. They all, with the exceptional exception of Captain Michelle Lesch, stated that ex-Warrant Officer Johann Burmeister was trustworthy and honest... and used that as their defense why they failed to follow their "standing orders", the rules and regulations governing their conduct and action.
At the heart of the matter was the definition of "outstanding", a term used on the register to denote property that had not being disposed of e.g. destroyed or returned to its owner. Advocate Bruwer proved unequivocally that it meant not disposed of but still in the possession of the police. At one point he even stated that "it was too coincidental that Appel's interpretation matched Coetzee's". Captain Lesch, their superior, in detail, confirmed that Bruwer understanding of the word was correct.
The biggest condemnation of five of the witnesses is that they had, at some point, whether in receipt or audit, signed that the laptop was in their possession. Gaining that admittance was a difficult task for Advocate Bruwer who was forced to nauseatingly repeat questions so many times that it's unlikely onlookers will ever forget them. The witnesses dug themselves a hole that they should be prosecuted for.
It was a liar's parade that had onlookers comparing tell-tale signs they noticed such as facial ticks, hand wrenching, looking away and, especially, the constant lowering of voices to inaudibility as their sentences trapped them.
Magistrate Derek Torlage's voice may have sounded emotionless but his words weren't. In his judgement he stated that all of the witnesses, with the exception of Captain Michelle Lesch, had admitted to either fraud or perjury.
How much has this frivolous case of falsehoods cost the taxpayer? Beyond the case itself, how man police hours were abused and wasted the past 8 months.
Arguably, there was a conspiracy i.e. a bunch of cops broke the rules and supported a clearly false case against Johann Burmeister whilst the evidence pointed at others.
It's uncomfortable add-on facts that senior police from the George Cluster, under which Knysna falls, were involved to some degree, whether by action or association i.e.
1. Colonel Marnewick is the boyfriend of Sergeant Carmen Coetzee, the officer who was far more qualified to be a suspect
2. Colonel Jeffrey Matiwani ordered the case be opened against Burmeister
3. Colonel Derek Daniels, Head of CIF (Criminal Intelligence) appeared in court, allegedly illegally recording proceedings and strangely interacting with Coetzee in the corridor outside. Witnesses said that he seemed like he was coaching her. She stated that he was only a colleague and that he had asked to hug her and she'd given permission. Does that sound like a colleague?
Sergeant Sergeant Coetzee seemed to be getting special treatment. She was left as the last witness and, even then, Prosecuto Thibedi oddly stated, without reason, that it wouldn't be fair if the case continued as there wasn't enough time left. Essentially, he was asking for another court date which would take months to get, this despite the fact that she was coming from out of town and had sat on a hard bench outside the court room for 3 days. Despite the fact that it was only 11.33am! Bruwer immediately counter-attacked by promising Magistrate Torlage that he would finish with Coetzee the same day. He kept his word despite Thibedi, for the first time, questioning her slowly and at length. This was noticeable as he'd likely spent less than 5 minutes on each witness so far. Even the magistrate had spoken longer. Thibedi was out of his trench hole and Bruwer was a bomber.
It must be asked why Thibedi gave this case sufficient merit for it to be prosecuted when it was obvious it had none? Was he ordered to?
After Sergeant Coetzee had finished testifying, admitting to two lies within the first 5 minutes, even Thibedi was forced to admit to Magistrate Torlage that he had no case.
The most blatant missing witness was Colonel Matiwane who, in his own testimony in the internal disciplinary hearing, had stated that he'd made the decision to open the case against Burmeister. Although he should have been a star witness for Prosecutor Thibedi, he wasn't called. Bruwer never called any witnesses as he believed, as was proven, that he'd won the case without them.
The biggest impact, beyond Burmeister's involvement, is that rules and procedure (i.e. the standing orders) are not valued or adhered to in the Knysna SAPS station, from the lowest to the highest rank. The registries are not treated as gospel and events are not being recorded in the Occurrence Book (OB) which is supposed to be the police station's ultimate diary. Particularly, in this case, Sergeant Carmen Coetzee and her superior, Warrant Officer Abrahams Coetzer, must be investigated. Not only is the missing laptop in question but what happened with a R16 000 gold armband too. These disturbing situations will give weight to rumours that cops are selling stolen goods in Knysna.
This case is going to keep tongues wagging and reinforce the public's distrust in the police. The hope of many is that this will force an investigation into the running of the station, with subsequent punishment and leadership replacement returning justice to the streets of Knysna. However, there are even more who believe that this telling event will be whitewashed.