The Namibian (Windhoek)

18 May 2012

Namibia: Station Commander Not Guilty Over Cell Death

FORMER Keetmanshoop Police Station commander James Nderura, who was prosecuted in connection with the death of a Police detainee about five years ago, was found not guilty on Wednesday.

Nderura faced a charge of culpable homicide in a trial which started in the High Court in Windhoek in October 2010.

Judge Nate Ndauendapo told Nderura on Wednesday, after he had heard the last of the closing arguments in the trial of Nderura and four remaining co-accused, that he was acquitted. The stage was set for the acquittal on Tuesday, when Deputy Prosecutor General Belinda Wantenaar told the judge that the prosecution was conceding that it had not proven that Nderura was guilty of the charge he was facing.

Nderura was not on duty and had handed over command of the Police station to another officer before the fatal incident took place, the court heard during the trial.

The four people remaining in the dock after Nderura's acquittal are due to hear Judge Ndauendapo's verdict on the charges against them on July 26.

Police officers Gert Hendrik Titsol, Lodwika Galand and Hendrina Nghivelwa are charged with culpable homicide, while a former detainee at the Keetmanshoop Police Station, Charles Vries, is facing a charge of murder in connection with the death of Keetmanshoop resident Noël Calvin Thompson.

Another Police officer who had been prosecuted after Thompson's death, Christie Ndjede, was pronounced not guilty on October 28 2010 already.

Thompson (42) died on April 1 2007, shortly after he had been released from Police custody. He was detained at the Keetmanshoop Police Station during the night before his death, after his wife had asked the Police to remove him from her house, where he was causing a disturbance while in a drunken state.

At the Keetmanshoop Police station, he was locked up in a cell with Vries and two other detainees, who were both mentally unstable, the court heard during the trial.

While in the cell Thompson was allegedly involved in a fight. During the night Police officers on duty at the station took him to a hospital for treatment, and he was then returned to the Police station and again locked up in the same cell.

Thompson died as a result of a ruptured liver shortly after he had been released from custody.

During the trial before Judge Ndauendapo, Vries claimed that Thompson had a knife with him when he entered the cell, and that he had threatened Vries with the weapon.

Vries claimed he never laid a hand on Thompson, but before the trial he indicated that he had acted in self-defence against Thompson.

His defence lawyer, Mese Tjituri, argued on Tuesday that Vries had acted in self-defence when he was faced with an imminent danger posed by Thompson.

Wantenaar argued that the court should find Vries guilty of murder, committed without a direct intention to kill. She reminded the judge that there was evidence that Vries had told a senior Police officer that he had kicked Thompson. Wantenaar also argued that Titsol, Galand and Nghivelwa, who were on duty at the Police station during the night of Thompson's detention, had been careless and negligent and had failed in their duty of care towards Thompson. As a result, she argued, they should be found guilty of culpable homicide.

The three Police officers' defence lawyer, Christie Mostert, argued on Wednesday that the officers had done what they could under difficult circumstances on a busy month-end evening. They told the court that they searched Thompson before he was put into the cell, and did not find any weapons in his possession.

The court can safely make a finding that a knife had been present in the cell, but it cannot safely make a finding that the knife had been brought into the cell by Thompson, Mostert argued.

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