After being mugged and having all his equipment stolen, a Cape Town artist approached police officers for help, only to be arrested and forced to spend a night in the police station holding cells.
Mak1one, who is well-known and respected internationally for his graffiti style, said after completing a commercial job he was dropping a friend off at his home in Athlone at about 1am on Thursday last week when a group of men held a knife to his throat and stripped him of his bag, phone, camera, sketch books and his spray painting equipment.
When he and his friend then saw a passing police van, they flagged the police officers down in order to get help.
But Mak1one said he was treated with suspicion, accused of drinking and driving and thrown into the back of the police van.
“I had to hold onto the bars, as they were driving very hard and jumping red robots,” he said.
At Athlone police station, he was forced to blow into a breathalyser which indicated he was over the legal limit.
However, breathalyser’s are not admitted as evidence in court, with the new Drager breathalyzer having been subject to a High Court dispute which resulted in the court ruling it results inadmissible pending certain adjustments to the instrument.
Mak1one was then taken to a hospital where a blood test was drawn and driven back to the police station where he was charged with drunken driving and placed in the holding cells for the night, without the police officers knowing the results of the blood test which takes up to eight months for the analysis to be returned.
“As I read the (police) code of conduct in the police station, I realised that I was not treated in the way I should have been treated,” he said.
The next morning a friend paid R500 for his bail and the following day he appeared in court where his case was postponed until April 4.
The artist said he has been traumatised by the experience. “I will never ask police for help again,” he said.
But he is just one of thousands of people who have been failed by the police, said high profile criminal lawyer William Booth.
Booth said police often did not follow correct procedure by making arrests on poor bases and often without proper investigations.
“Often police arrest and detain people unnecessarily. There has to be a good basis on which to arrest someone. They arrest on the most petty of offenses. They need to follow what the law says. If the person is not a flight risk, they first need to investigate and then determine if that person will be prosecuted,” he said.
Booth queried why the artist was arrested and detained as the results of what was believed to have been a Drager breathalyser were insufficient grounds for arrest as the Drager was ruled by the High Court to be unreliable in determining sobriety.
“If there is probable cause other than the Drager, they could arrest him, but why detain him?” queried Booth.
Booth said what was worrying was that the police did not investigate the robbing complaint. “This is of great concern. If someone reports something of a serious nature, it has to be investigated,” he said.
The artist’s experience came days before civil society organisations called on Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to appoint a commission of enquiry into the failures of the criminal justice system in Khayelitsha and the failure of Khayelitsha police to serve and protect the community. The Social Justice Coalition, the Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education, Free Gender, the Triangle Project, and Ndifuna Ukwazi, formally lodged a complaint to Zille on Monday.
According to the complaint, victims of crime are often treated with contempt when they report a crime, police officers often do not communicate the progress of investigations with victims of crime, and investigating officers often do not secure the presence of witnesses which results in lengthy postponements. Other factors to hamper the criminal justice system are lost dockets, corruption, poor investigations, and escaped suspects.
Premier Zille’s spokesperson Zak Mbhele said the submission had been referred to the legal services unit for them “to analyse and advise”.
Mbhele could not say when feedback from the lawyers would be obtained.
Lieutenant Colonel Helgard Grundling at the Athlone Police station said SAPS “did not use” the Drager breathalyzer as they were not trained to do so, and that the device was only utilized by Metro police and traffic officers.
He said the Drager needs to be supported by a blood test and a doctor’s report. “We not only take a blood sample but the person is also seen by a doctor who gives a medical report which will find whether or not that person is under the influence of liquor. We will then detain the person until he is sober and release him on warning to appear in court,” he said.
He said it was “unlikely” that police would not give attention to a serious complaint. “It is unlikely that a person who makes a report is then locked up as the accused.”