A chemical engineer who spent four days in a police cell after someone mistook him for a bank robber has been awarded R350 000 damages.
Acting Judge Andre Petersen ordered the police minister to compensate Bulali Mdontsane, 31, a chemical engineer of Montana in Pretoria, for the four days he spent in a filthy police cell at the Garsfontein police station in 2013.
Petersen initially claimed R1.5 million damages for his unlawful arrest and detention and a loss of income, saying he missed out on a 20% salary increase with a new employer because of his arrest.
Petersen dismissed his claim for loss of earnings because it was only based on Mdontsane’s say-so and he produced no documents to prove his claim.
The engineer told the court he was buying food at a shop in the Lynnwood Bridge Mall when the police approached him, saying he was a suspect in a bank robbery at the mall six months earlier.
A security officer who was with the police said he had seen Mdontsane on the day of the robbery. Despite his protestations of innocence and providing his driver’s licence, and business card from his oil company, the arresting officer told him he did not speak to criminals and pushed him into the police vehicle.
He was detained for four days in a police cell that was unhygienic, smelled of urine, with blocked toilets and unwashed blankets. He was only provided with mouldy bread and chicken soup which he said was so bad it put him off chicken soup for life.
Mdontsane had to take a week off work to recover from his ordeal and told the court he had lost all trust in the police.
He said he lost potential employment at Transnet, where he would have been paid 20% more. He had successfully completed the job interview process but lost out because a background check revealed details of his arrest.
The prosecutor declined to prosecute him when he was eventually brought before court. The police insisted the arrest and detention were lawful but the judge said the arresting officer should have gathered more information before he arrested Mdontsane.