MASERU — When his gruelling ordeal finally ended Mare Taole had fractured ribs, vomited blood twice and fainted five times. His attackers were not criminals but four police officers who had taken turns to kick and suffocate him as they tortured him at a police station. The harrowing ordeal that started on July 21 in 2009 lasted two days. On Thursday Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane ordered the police to pay him M240 200 in damages.
Taole had initially sued the police for M600 000. Taole had sued police officer Motho Sehloho, Commissioner of Police and Attorney-General for assault, humiliation as well as unlawful arrest and detention.
In her judgment Justice Hlajoane said she was appalled by the way Taole had been treated by the police. The judgment itself makes for depressing reading with its details of the brutal and inhumane way police officer Sehloho and his three colleagues treated Taole in those 48 hours. Taole’s trouble started on July 21, 2009 after a laptop was stolen from Lesotho Steel where he worked. Taole was questioned by the police at Maseru Central Charge Office but was released after he said he had nothing to do with the missing laptop. But later that day police officer Sehloho took him back to the charge office.
There Taole found three other officers waiting for him. When Taole said he knew nothing about the missing laptop Sehloho said he was lying and he was going to “vomit that laptop”. He was locked up in a cell and just after midnight Sehlolo and his colleagues started torturing him.
With his hands still in cuffs, Sehloho asked him to undress. Taole managed to take off his jersey, shirt and T-shirt. Sehlolo then started kicking him in the ribs with his “heavy shoes”. When he fell Sehloho, whose name literally means cruelty in Sesotho, stepped on his handcuffs so that they could tighten on his wrists. In the meantime another officer was hitting him in the back with his knee.
He was then ordered to be prostrate on the cold floor while his hands were cuffed behind him. His legs were then pulled up with a rope.
Taole said because of pain and cold he began to lose his mind. He started vomiting blood but Sehloho and his team kept battering him.
They fastened a tube to his mouth and nose to suffocate him. Taole fainted for the first of what would be five times during the torture that lasted for two days. When he regained consciousness the police had removed the cuffs. But just as he thought his torment had ended his hands were cuffed again and Sehloho started choking him again with the tube.
Taole then “urinated and fainted once again”, the judge said. This process was repeated three more times and on both occasions he fainted.
When Taole could not take the pain any longer he told the police officers that he had stolen the laptop and he was going to show them where it was.
He said he was only confessing because of the pain he had suffered. He took them to his home in Teyateyaneng home but along the way Sehloho kept hitting him with a gun butt. Taole said no laptop was found at his home because he had lied in order to save his life. Having failed to find the laptop, Sehloho and his team brought Taole back to Maseru Charge Office. They hit him with gun butts and ordered him to undress with his hands still in cuffs. Once again, Sehloho stepped on his cuffs to tighten them and kicked him on the back with his knee.
“He (Sehloho) again suffocated him with a tube saying plaintiff (Taole) was going to talk. He even called plaintiff Satan,” the judge said.
Taole fainted and when he came to Sehloho kicked him in the ribs, causing him to vomit “a lot of blood”. The judge said when Taole asked for water Sehloho refused saying “if Satan (Taole) is given water in that condition he was going to die”. The following day a police officer identified in court papers only as Mathias took Taole to Teyateyaneng but they could not find the laptop. Mathias then reported to his bosses that he believed that Taole was only “confessing” to avoid being tortured.
Taole was released on July 23. He told the court that after the gruelling ordeal he felt terrible pains, was miserable and depressed.
Days after the being tortured he experienced cramps and had nightmares. A doctor who treated him said his wrists were injured and swollen.
An X-ray showed fractured ribs on the left side. The doctor said he suspected a blunt object had caused the injuries. There were also some abrasions on the plaintiff’s right shoulder and tenderness on the spinal cord. Taole had claimed M100 000 for unlawful arrest and imprisonment, M399 700 for shock and suffering, M100 000 for contumelia (humiliation) and M300 for medical expenses. The police did not deny liability but challenged the quantum. The judge awarded him M200 000 for assault, M40 000 for unlawful arrest and imprisonment and M200 for medical expenses.
Justice Hlajoane said the anguish, fear and pain Taole suffered was unbearable. She described Taole’s arrest and detention as “unlawful and malicious” and police actions as “barbaric”. “They (Sehloho and his team) seemed to have enjoyed what they were doing to plaintiff. For a man to have urinated due to pain portrays how bad he was being handled”. The police never charged Taole for the alleged crime. Advocate Zwelake Mda appeared for plaintiff while Advocate Lebakeng for respondents.
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