Death in custody raises alarm

When 22-year-old Jacobus Hendricks staggered into a police vehicle after he was arrested for drunken and unruly behaviour at his Clanwilliam home in the early hours of December 16, the family was relieved that he would be kept in a cell overnight to sleep it off.

But a few hours later his mother, Maria Hendricks, was contacted by the police and asked to accompany them to the Clanwilliam Hospital, where she saw her son, apparently soaking wet and confused. The seriously ill Hendricks was transferred to Tygerberg Hospital in Parow, Cape Town, where he died on Thursday last week.

Andries Coetzee told the Mail & Guardian that his brother had been arrested in the early hours of the morning after the family called the police. Hendricks had overindulged in beer and was out of control, Coetzee said. “We wanted him to go and sleep it off. That was the last time I saw him.”

Coetzee said his mother had continued to visit his brother in Tygerberg Hospital, but he never recovered and complained when she visited him that his head hurt. This week the Independent Complaints Directorate began investigating the case and was informed by the Clanwilliam police that no autopsy was conducted after Hendricks had died.

But in line with some of the inconsistencies surrounding the case, it was later established that an autopsy had already been conducted on Hendricks on December 30, said the directorate’s national spokesperson, Moses Dlamini. “Our guys have been out there to investigate and they interviewed the doctor who conducted the autopsy. We don’t have the results yet.”

A local community activist, Billy Claasen, believes Hendricks may have been assaulted by police officials and has been insisting that an investigation takes place. “Like the family, we want answers. What happened in that short period of time?” he asked.

Claasen claimed that when he went to make inquiries at the local police station, he was told by police officers that they were conducting their own internal investigation.

At this point the Independent Complaints Directorate had not yet been notified, he said. “We want to know what the autopsy found,” Claasen said. “Why has the family not been given the autopsy results?” The mystery of what happened to Hendricks in police custody is not the only unresolved case in the province.

In 2009 14 Cape Town-based members of the Hawks were implicated in 18 cases of torture by the directorate, but the number of cases involving some of the officers rose to 30. In particular, they were accused of involvement in the 2009 death in custody of Sidwell Mkwambi, a 24-year-old Crossroads resident.

Dlamini said the directorate was still waiting for a decision from the National Prosecuting Authority on whether any of the police officers implicated would be prosecuted. Asked whether the directorate lacked the teeth to bring about change, Dlamini said it was doing the best it could to investigate and make findings on cases.

“There is nothing we can say or do to hasten the decision by the national director of public prosecutions on whether it will prosecute,” said Dlamini. “There is no time frame given and this matter has been going on for years.”


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