Police watchdogs are “outright liars”

GroundUp published this article today, dealing with my case and the broader issues raised by it.

Police watchdogs are “outright liars”

No evidence of IPID investigation into assaults witnessed by Eduard Grebe

By Naib Miangroundup.org.za

April 13th, 2016

Eduard Grebe has asked Advocate Vusi Pikoli, the Western Cape Police Ombudsman, to investigate the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) for failing to properly investigate his allegations against police officers. He has also asked the ombudsman to investigate what he calls the “systemic problems and a culture of lawlessness at the Woodstock Police Station”.

Grebe published an article on GroundUp in January describing how he was arrested on the night of 3 January after refusing to delete footage he took of officers assaulting a man they claimed to be arresting for drug possession. This was despite later finding nothing on him. Grebe described the poor conditions he was held in at Woodstock Police Station as well as another more serious case of assault that he witnessed the next day. He was released without charge.

Grebe’s latest letter was prompted by the failure of either the South African Police Service (Saps) or the IPID to respond to his initial complaints. The IPID is the state watchdog responsible for investigating complaints of police brutality and corruption.

ObsLife reported in late March that Woodstock Police Station Commander Col Duma Ntsezo issued a statement affirming members of the public can film police action as long as they do not interfere with officers’ execution of their duties.

Saps’ Standing Order 156 states: “a media representative may not be prohibited from taking photographs or making visual recordings.” The Right2Know campaign has been pushing for Saps to make that stance clearer by including ordinary citizens, not just media representatives.

Grebe filed a complaint with the Western Cape Ombudsman of Police about the two assaults he witnessed as well as his alleged unlawful arrest. The investigation into the arrest was to be carried out by Saps, but the Ombudsman recommended Grebe take the assault complaints to the IPID.

Captain Moll of Woodstock Police Station handled Grebe’s case. Grebe said Moll took his statement and told him that a disciplinary process was underway for one of the two officers that took him into custody.

“They completely ignored the second officer as well as the senior officer who I view as more responsible, who, even after being called by my lawyer and told that I was being held without grounds, would not release me,” Grebe said.

Grebe signed a document saying he was satisfied that an investigation was ongoing into one of the officers. He was told he would be contacted to testify. But, he says, he instead received a copy of a letter from Moll to his superiors saying Grebe was satisfied that the relevant member of Saps was spoken to and the matter was closed.

Captain Moll, however, told GroundUp the investigation is ongoing at the Saps Western Cape provincial office, and Grebe will be called in to testify when the hearing is held.

If and when the hearing is held though, disciplinary action often is not very severe, according to Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies.

In Saps 2014/2015 annual report, of the 4,457 disciplinary cases, less than ten percent resulted in dismissals.

Grebe’s other two allegations, focusing on police brutality, were supposed to be handled by the IPID. He sent Owen Anthony, the IPID’s Deputy Director of Investigations, multiple emails but did not receive a response. GroundUp reported on 21 January that Anthony had confirmed receipt of the email and planned to respond.

The IPID reviews cases, and upon completion, either makes recommendations to Saps to conduct disciplinary action or the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to pursue criminal charges.

Anthony told GroundUp that the IPID had made a recommendation to the NPA. But the senior public prosecutor declined to prosecute the case and did not provide a reason. He provided no details on the recommendation the IPID made to the NPA.

“It is surprising that the IPID made a recommendation to the NPA, as they appeared not to have collected evidence from the witness nor to have identified the victim of the alleged assault,” said Gwen Dereymaeker, a researcher at the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative.

“It is therefore unclear what could have formed the basis of the file that they submitted to the NPA containing their recommendation. Without all the evidence needed, the NPA is unable to make a decision to prosecute or not. The apparent failure of the NPA to request additional information from IPID is equally surprising,” explained Dereymaeker.

Anthony also told GroundUp that the caseworker on Grebe’s claim, Mr Masangwana, personally conveyed the prosecutor’s decision to Grebe.

“That is an outright lie,” said Grebe, who claimed he had never heard of Mr Masangwana. “To the best of my knowledge no IPID official has ever attempted to contact me.”

“And I fail to understand on what basis a prosecutor could have made a decision without any sort of witness statement from me,” Grebe continued.

Researchers and community activists following Grebe’s case have pointed out recurring flaws in the systems of oversight over Saps, the least of which is a lack of communication.

“Saps has a big problem with not communicating enough with victims,” Newham said. “It may be the same for the IPID.”

Beyond that, the IPID has come under scrutiny for underperforming.

In its 2014/2015 annual report, the IPID outlined a goal of completing 65 percent of investigations of death as a result of police action within 90 days. The actual result was 22 percent, and removing the 90 day limit, IPID completed 50 percent.

“It’s worrying that so few are completed in three months,” Newham said. “People’s memories change, and the case becomes weaker.”

The IPID’s conviction success rate is also very low. Of 5,879 complaints received in the year, one percent resulted in a criminal conviction. And those convictions are often very light. Assault, from minor assault to assault with grievous bodily harm, often results in fines of R300 to R5,000 and occasionally up to 12 months in prison.

“There are very low conviction rates for police by the NPA – much lower than the normal public,” Newham said. “It’s usually because the prosecutors have to work closely with police in other cases and think too strict a stance might undermine relationships with them.”

Many point the finger at the IPID’s lack of resources. In its own report, the IPID explains its underperformance, citing “capacity constraints.”

The IPID replaced the Independent Complaints Directorate in 2012 under the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act, which expanded its mandate and increased its workload.

“The IPID receives a lot more cases, but its budget and capacity have not increased,” Newham said. “They have 182 investigators to cover over 5,000 cases a year as well as cases that have rolled over from previous years.”

When it comes to oversight of the police, however, Newham said external investigations will not be able to significantly affect police impunity without changes in police culture.

“Investigating police officials is very difficult,” he said. “Officers often band together and don’t testify against each other.”

The Office of the Saps Western Cape Provincial Commissioner did not respond to requests to confirm the ongoing disciplinary investigation and hearing procedures.

© 2016 GroundUp. Republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

My letter to the Western Cape Police Ombudsman regarding SAPS and IPID’s failure to investigate police brutality

This evening I sent this letter to Advocate Vusi Pikoli, Western Cape Police Ombudsman, pursuant to a complaint I first registered with his office in January after I was unlawfully detained for trying to stop police brutality by filming it. I also laid complaints with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate about two incidents of police brutality – one an extremely serious assault on a detainee. IPID has failed even to acknowledge receipt of my complaints. (A few small typos and grammatical errors were corrected in the text below, but it is otherwise identical to the letter I sent.)

(Photo by Masixole Feni, GroundUp.)

7 April 2016

Adv Vusi Pikoli

Western Cape Police Ombudsman

C/O:     Ms Abigail Lewis

abigail.lewis2@westerncape.gov.za

CC:        Lt Gen A.H. Lamoer

Provincial Commissioner: Western Cape

South African Police Service

wcpcstaffofficer@saps.gov.za

CC:        Mr T. Thokolo

Provincial Head: Western Cape

Independent Police Investigative Directorate

Complaints.WesternCape@ipid.gov.za

CC:        Mr Owen Anthony

Independent Police Investigative Directorate

OAnthony@IPID.gov.za

CC:        Col Duma Ntsezo

Station Commander: Woodstock Police Station

South African Police Service

woodstocksaps@saps.gov.za

CC:        Capt Moll

Woodstock Police Station

South African Police Service

woodstocksaps@saps.gov.za

CC:        Mr Barrie Terblanche

Chairperson: Observatory Community Policing Subforum

barrieterblanche@gmail.com

CC:        Mr Michael Bishop

Legal Resources Centre

michaelb@lrc.org.za

COMPLAINT REGARDING UNLAWFUL DETENTION AT WOODSTOCK POLICE STATION, CRIMINAL ASSAULTS PERPETRATED BY MEMBERS OF THE SAPS AND SUBSEQUENT EVENTS (REF: WCPO 120120160000)

Dear Sir

I write to inform you of events that have transpired following the complaint I first registered with your office on 12 January 2016, and to request that you initiate an appropriate investigation.

As documented in the aforementioned complaint, and in an article that I wrote and published in the community news publication GroundUp,[1] I was unlawfully arrested on the evening of 3 January 2016 and detained at Woodstock Police Station overnight. The arrest was prompted by my attempt to discourage police brutality by filming an arrest taking place near my home in Observatory, Cape Town. During the arrest I witnessed, one of two officers was kneeling on the back of a man (later known to me as “Joseph”), and the other officer was choking the man in a fashion I feared might lead to his death by asphyxiation. After successfully restraining and handcuffing the man, one of the officers (later known to me as Const Yoko) approached me and demanded that I delete the footage from my phone. I refused, and he ordered me to get into the police vehicle. I repeatedly asked whether I was under arrest, and of which crime I was suspected. He did not answer me. I repeatedly told him at this time and upon arrival at Woodstock Police Station that I considered my arrest and detention unlawful. Before my phone was confiscated I managed to alert a lawyer, Ms Wilmien Wicomb of the Legal Resources Centre, of my detention and to send her a copy of the video I had recorded. At the station, I continued to insist to both Constable Yoko and a senior officer (later known to me as Capt Magwentshu, the shift commander) that my detention was unlawful. Ms Wicomb also spoke by phone to both Const Yoko and Capt Magwentshu, informing them that she was in possession of evidence that my arrest and detention was unlawful, and insisting upon my release. Capt Magwentshu told her to “take us to court” and told me that I was “welcome to lay a charge of unlawful arrest”. It was clear that Const Yoko, the other officer who was with him during my arrest (whose name I do not know) and Capt Magwentshu knew and understood that my detention was unlawful, but that they chose to persist with it nonetheless. I was told that I had been arrested for “interfering with an arrest”, but the Notice of Constitutional Rights document I was given stated “Riotous Behaviour” as the reason for my detention. The disregard for the law shown by these police officers deeply shocked me.

On the morning of 4 January I was taken to the Cape Town Community Court and eventually released without appearing before a Court or being charged with a crime. However, outside the Community Court (at some time between 8am and 10am, I believe), I witnessed an extremely serious assault perpetrated by a SAPS member, identified on his uniform as Const Khoza, upon a detainee (whose name is not known to me). Const Khoza slapped, punched and kicked the detainee, and also stomped on his genitals with his boot, in an assault that lasted several minutes and left the detainee in extreme pain.

I should note that I formed the strong impression that almost all (if not all) of the persons arrested on the night of 3 to 4 January and released on the morning of the 4th were arrested on spurious grounds (most had either “riotous behaviour” or “public nuisance” noted as the reasons for their detention on their Notices of Constitutional Rights) and that the officers from the Woodstock Police Station had no intention of charging, seeking the conviction of, or even bringing before a Court these detainees. Most of the other detainees I spoke to were either homeless or had substance abuse problems (particularly alcoholism) and were not in fact arrested on suspicion of having committed any crime. There appeared to be a culture at Woodstock Police Station of arresting persons, in essence, for being poor or for being ill.

After your office advised me that criminal actions by police officers fell within the purview of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, and referred me to Mr Owen Anthony of said institution, I submitted a detailed description of the two assaults I had witnessed by email to Mr Anthony. I offered to be interviewed and provide statements under oath. I have, however, received no communication from IPID regarding these complaints. I know that Mr Anthony received my complaints, because he acknowledged this – on the record – to a journalist of GroundUp.[2] He has, to the best of my knowledge, never attempted to contact me. Nor is there any indication that an investigation into my allegations of criminal actions by SAPS members ever took place. For the sake of completeness, I quote my emails to Mr Anthony in full below:

From: “Grebe, Eduard ” <eduardgrebe@sun.ac.za>

Date: Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 4:15 AM -0800

Subject: Criminal complaints against police officers

To: “OAnthony@IPID.gov.za” <OAnthony@IPID.gov.za>

Dear Mr Anthony

I was referred to you by the Office of the Western Cape Ombudsman for Police after I lodged a complaint with them over police actions towards me as well as two other detainees. They indicated that they are unable to investigate alleged criminal actions by police officers, which should instead be investigated by the IPID.

In the complaint to the Ombudsman which I attach hereto, and also the article I wrote for the press (also attached), I describe criminal assaults by police officers. Specifically, late on the evening of 3 January I witnessed an arrest taking place close to my home (at the corner of Trill and Oxford Roads, Observatory, Cape Town), by a Constable Yoko and another police officer (whose name I do not know). While restraining the arrestee, one of the police officers (I believe Constable Yoko, but I am not 100% sure) choked the arrestee repeatedly, in a way I did not believe could possibly be justified. While the arrestee was not complying with the SAPS members’ instructions to put his hands behind his back, he had been effectively restrained by being pinned to the ground and the members could not have felt physically threatened at the time when the choking took place. I attempted to film the incident – in a deliberate and obvious way – in order to create an incentive for the members not to unduly harm the arrestee. Const Yoko first attempted to persuade me to delete the video and, when I refused, unlawfully arrested and detained me on a purported charge of “riotous behaviour”. I was released without charge the next day.

I am not sure whether this unlawful arrest also constitutes a criminal act and potentially falls within the purview of the IPID, but it certainly constituted a gross abuse of power and serious misconduct.

Second, the next morning (4 January, sometime between 08:00 and 10:00, I believe) I witnessed an even more egregious assault – described in some detail in the article that I wrote. This assault was perpetrated by a Constable Khoza on a detainee, whose name I do not know, in a prisoner transport vehicle outside the Cape Town Community Court. The victim had in no way physically endangered the SAPS member. There was no attempt to restrain the victim – he was simply attacked after apparently stolen money was found in his possession. The assault appeared to be purely punitive and a form of summary justice in the eyes of the SAPS member in question. This was without doubt a serious criminal act on the part of the member and should be vigorously investigated.

I am willing to be interviewed, provide sworn statements, and to testify in Court about these incidents. There are also other witnesses (in particular to the second assault by Const Khoza, which was witnessed by at least one other police officer and at least four detainees, in addition to the victim himself).

I await your urgent reply.

Kind regards

Eduard Grebe

From: “Grebe, Eduard ” <eduardgrebe@sun.ac.za>

Date: Sun, Jan 17, 2016 at 10:43 AM -0800

Subject: Re: Criminal complaints against police officers

To: “oanthony@ipid.gov.za” <oanthony@ipid.gov.za>

Cc: “Wilmien Wicomb” <wilmien@lrc.org.za>

Dear Mr Anthony

Could you kindly confirm receipt of my complaint, confirm that a criminal investigation is underway, and indicate if and when you would like to interview me.

Regards,

Eduard Grebe

Later in January I was contacted by Capt Moll of the Woodstock Police Station, who wished to interview me for the purposes of an internal disciplinary investigation. I met with him, in the presence of Ms Wilmien Wicomb of the Legal Resources Centre, and provided a detailed sworn statement. Capt Moll stated explicitly that the investigation related only to my arrest and detention and not to the criminal assaults I had witnessed. The statement therefore does not provide details on the assault perpetrated by Const Khoza on the detainee. I would like to state for the record that Capt Moll treated me with respect and showed real concern about my treatment at the hands of the SAPS.

A few days later Capt Moll came to see me at my home, at which time he verbally informed me that disciplinary charges were being pursued against Const Yoko, and that it was likely that I would be asked to testify at a disciplinary hearing. I expressed my willingness to do so. However, it also became clear that disciplinary action was not being taken against the other officer who was present during my arrest, nor against Capt Magwentshu – who was the most senior officer on duty at the time of my unlawful detention. Capt Moll implored me to sign a document stating that the matter of my complaint had been resolved to my satisfaction. I initially refused to sign the document, but eventually agreed to sign it after altering it to state that I was satisfied that the matter had been investigated satisfactorily, but not resolved. I also wrote on the document that I reserved all rights to pursue the matter further. During the same meeting Capt Moll provided me with a copy of a letter from him addressed to a more senior officer. This letter, which I only read after the meeting had ended, completely contradicted what Capt Moll had told me verbally. It stated that the SAPS member in question had been verbally reprimanded, and that I was satisfied that this resolved the matter. I must emphasise in the strongest terms that this is inaccurate. First, if indeed the disciplinary matter had been concluded with a verbal warning, then Capt Moll had lied to me when he said that a disciplinary hearing would follow and that the matter was still being actively pursued. Second, I was not – or would not have been – satisfied that a verbal warning concluded the matter. Unlawful detention constitutes serious misconduct, and I would only be satisfied if the SAPS members implicated (which includes Capt Magwentshu) faced substantial sanction.

From the events described in this letter one must conclude that:

  1. The SAPS failed to conduct a thorough and proper disciplinary investigation into my unlawful detention and failed to apply appropriate sanction to the three officers guilty of this serious misconduct;
  2. The SAPS failed entirely to conduct a disciplinary investigation into the two instances of police brutality which I had witnessed and described; and
  3. The IPID failed entirely to conduct a criminal investigation into the two instances of criminal assault perpetrated by SAPS members that I appraised them of in detail.

In an email from Ms Abigail Lewis to me on 4 March 2016, she states that your office had been informed by the office of the SAPS Provincial Commissioner that “your [my] matter was investigated in terms of SAPS internal prescripts. They also include that the complainant (yourself) was given feedback and that a satisfactory statement was obtained.” It is to this email I now respond with information indicating that the matter has by no means been satisfactorily resolved.

These events in fact constitute a serious indictment of both the South African Police Service and the Independent Police Complaints Directorate. I am extremely concerned about the apparent impunity with which police officers were able to detain a member of the public who was manifestly innocent of any crime. I am even more disturbed by the impunity with which police officers could assault detainees.

I request that your office now initiates a thorough investigation into these failings. The failings have much broader relevance than the particulars of my treatment at the hands of the SAPS. In particular, I would urge you to consider the following matters:

  1. Why has the SAPS failed to properly investigate allegations of serious misconduct and how can this be rectified?
  2. Why has the IPID failed to investigate allegations of serious criminal actions by police officers and how can this be rectified?
  3. Are there systemic problems and a culture of lawlessness at the Woodstock Police Station that have led (or may in future lead) to a breakdown in trust between the SAPS and the community it serves?
  4. How can “citizen journalists” documenting the actions of police officers be protected against arbitrary arrest and intimidation by police officers?
  5. How can the apparent pattern at Woodstock Police Station of making arrests without any intention of bringing charges or securing a successful prosecution be addressed?
  6. What remedial action can be taken to protect poor and vulnerable persons – often unaware of their rights and without the necessary knowledge and means to institute civil claims or lay complaints with watchdog bodies – from police brutality?
  7. Are national or provincial policies or standing orders required to address these failings?

I thank you for your consideration of the important issues raised in this complaint.

Sincerely,

P. Eduard Grebe

[1] The article can be accessed at this URL: http://www.groundup.org.za/article/i-was-jailed-filming-police-assault/.

[2] See the article dated 21 January at this URL: http://www.groundup.org.za/article/eduard-grebes-allegations-against-police-have-not-been-investigated/. In it, Mr Anthony is quoted as follows:

Anthony told GroundUp that he had received the email but “I could not attend to it at the time because things have been hectic. I will look at it now and will provide feedback by today as I will not be in the office tomorrow”. He added that he could not give an exact time of the feedback but it would “definitely be today”.

My reports of two assaults to IPID remain unacknowledged and unanswered

While an officer at Woodstock SAPS investigated my arrest as part of a disciplinary process against Constable Yoko, who unlawfully arrested me, my reports of two assaults (one very serious and perpetrated by a Constable Khoza on a defenceless detainee) have attracted no attention from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). Below are two emails I sent to a specific official at their Cape Town office to whom I was referred by the office of the Western Cape Police Ombudsman (Advocate Vusi Pikoli). When contacted by GroundUp, Mr Anthony promised to meet with me. He has failed to do so, or even reply to my emails. GroundUp wrote on  21 January:

GroundUp contacted the office of the IPID Western Cape but the number, which is given on their website, was not available. Eventually we got hold of Anthony via a number provided by the ombudsman’s office.

Anthony told GroundUp that he had received the email but “I could not attend to it at the time because things have been hectic. I will look at it now and will provide feedback by today as I will not be in the office tomorrow”. He added that he could not give an exact time of the feedback but it would “definitely be today”.

Anthony said his office had received a letter from the ombudsman and would take the matter from there and because a complaint was not filed at the police station, IPID was not aware of the incident.

“I will make time to meet Mr Grebe personally about this matter and we will take it forward,” Anthony said.

Here are my emails to Anthony:

From: Eduard Grebe < eduardgrebe@sun.ac.za> 

Date: Wednesday, 13 January 2016 at 14:14 

To: ” OAnthony@IPID.gov.za” < OAnthony@IPID.gov.za> 

Subject: Criminal complaints against police officers
Dear Mr Anthony

I was referred to you by the Office of the Western Cape Ombudsman for Police after I lodged a complaint with them over police actions towards me as well as two other detainees. They indicated that they are unable to investigate alleged criminal actions by police officers, which should instead be investigated by the IPID.

In the complaint to the Ombudsman which I attach hereto, and also the article I wrote for the press (also attached), I describe criminal assaults by police officers. Specifically, late on the evening of 3 January I witnessed an arrest taking place close to my home (at the corner of Trill and Oxford Roads, Observatory, Cape Town), by a Constable Yoko and another police officer (whose name I do not know). While restraining the arrestee, one of the police officers (I believe Constable Yoko, but I am not 100% sure) choked the arrestee repeatedly, in a way I did not believe could possibly be justified. While the arrestee was not complying with the SAPS members’ instructions to put his hands behind his back, he had been effectively restrained by being pinned to the ground and the members could not have felt physically threatened at the time when the choking took place. I attempted to film the incident – in a deliberate and obvious way – in order to create an incentive for the members not to unduly harm the arrestee. Const Yoko first attempted to persuade me to delete the video and, when I refused, unlawfully arrested and detained me on a purported charge of “riotous behaviour”. I was released without charge the next day.

I am not sure whether this unlawful arrest also constitutes a criminal act and potentially falls within the purview of the IPID, but it certainly constituted an gross abuse of power and serious misconduct.

Second, the next morning (4 January, sometime between 08:00 and 10:00, I believe) I witnessed an even more egregious assault – described in some detail in the article that I wrote. This assault was perpetrated by a Constable Khoza on a detainee, whose name I do not know, in a prisoner transport vehicle outside the Cape Town Community Court. The victim had in no way physically endangered the SAPS member. There was no attempt to restrain the victim – he was simply attacked after apparently stolen money was found in his possession. The assault appeared to be purely punitive and a form of summary justice in the eyes of the SAPS member in question. This was without doubt a serious criminal act on the part of the member and should be vigorously investigated.

I am willing to be interviewed, provide sworn statements, and to testify in Court about these incidents. There are also other witnesses (in particular to the second assault by Const Khoza, which was witnessed by at least one other police officer and at least four detainees, in addition to the victim himself).

I await your urgent reply.

Kind regards

P. Eduard Grebe

From: ” Grebe, Eduard ” <eduardgrebe@sun.ac.za> 

Date: Sun, Jan 17, 2016 at 10:43 AM -0800 

Subject: Re: Criminal complaints against police officers 

To: “oanthony@ipid.gov.za” <oanthony@ipid.gov.za>

Dear Mr Anthony

Could you kindly confirm receipt of my complaint, confirm that a criminal investigation is underway, and indicate if an when you would like to interview me.

Regards,

Eduard Grebe