Pretoria | Tuesday
FOUR of six white South African policemen were convicted on Monday for setting their dogs on three suspected illegal immigrants from Mozambique, saying it was done to train their dogs to bite humans.
The six men were arrested in November last year after sickening video footage of the attack was shown on television in South Africa — horrifying the nation — and around the world.
Jacobus Smith, Lodewyk Koch, Robert Henzen and Eugene Truter were convicted on three charges of assault Monday in the Pretoria High Court.
The two other accused, Nicolaas Loubser and Dino Guitto, pleaded not guilty to all charges and will be tried separately.
Henzen and Truter were also found guilty on one charge each of defeating the ends of justice by signing a false entry regarding the incident in a police register.
The four found guilty admitted in their plea explanations to “knowingly and intentionally” assaulting the three men and urging their dogs to maul the victims.
Smith said he had acted out of “bravado” and a “rush of emotion”.
The accused said they were trying to train younger, inexperienced police dogs — particularly one that had been reluctant to bite people — to attack on instruction, although Smith claimed in an earlier affidavit that the dogs were old and their teeth blunt.
On the day of the attacks — January 3, 1998 — Smith and Koch arrested the three men and found they were illegal aliens, who enjoy few rights in South Africa.
The other four accused then joined Smith and Koch in a field about 20 kilometres of Johannesburg.
There, they turned their dogs on the three men — later identified as Gabriel Pedro Timane, Alexandre Pedro Timane, and Sylvester Cose from Mozambique, who the video footage showed screaming for help.
The film showed the dogs attacking the illegal immigrants for 40 minutes as the policemen urged them on.
The policemen also punched and slapped the three men, calling them “bastards” and “kaffirs” — a derogatory term for blacks.
The six policemen were charged with three counts of serious assault, one of corruption, and one of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.
The corruption charge relates to the policemen allegedly promising to free the Mozambicans for a payment of R300 ($36).
The six policemen were suspended from the police dog unit in Benoni, northeast of Johannesburg, following their arrest. Loubser, Guiotto and Truter subsequently resigned from the force.
The trial of Smith, Koch, Henzen and Truter was adjourned to Wednesday for evidence in mitigation of sentence. Their bail of R2 000 each was extended.
Loubser and Guiotto are to appear before the judge again for their trial date to be determined. Their bail was also extended.
In an interview published in November last year, a Swiss national who trains police dogs said the methods used by the officers were similar to those used to train dogs to attack runaway slaves in the United States in the 18th century. – AFP
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