17 December 2012

Namibia: Suspended Jail Term Over Detainee's Death

EXPRESSIONS of remorse by Police Constable Gert Hendrik Titsol on Friday helped save him from being sent to prison over the death of a Keetmanshoop resident who died nearly six years ago after spending a night in police custody.

Titsol's trial ended in the High Court in Windhoek when he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, suspended in its entirety for a period of three years, on condition that he is not convicted of culpable homicide committed during the period of suspension.

"I have closely observed the accused during the trial and when he testified in court and I believe him when he told the court that he is sorry for what had happened," Judge Nate Ndauendapo remarked during Titsol's sentencing.

"In my opinion he expressed and showed genuine contrition for his actions and I consider that to be a huge mitigating factor."

Titsol (45) and four other police officers stood trial before Judge Ndauendapo on a charge of culpable homicide in connection with the death of Keetmanshoop resident Noël Calvin Thompson on April 1 2007. Another Keetmanshoop resident, Charles Vries, stood trial on a count murder in connection with Thompson's death.

Titsol was the only one of the six accused to be found guilty.

Thompson (42) died of a ruptured liver shortly after he had been released from police custody. He had been locked up in a cell at the Keetmanshoop police station on the night of March 31 2007, after his wife had asked police officers to remove him from her house, as he was allegedly causing trouble there.

Thompson was locked up in a cell with Vries and two other detainees, who were both mentally unstable, the court heard.

After a commotion had broken out in the cell, police officers who were on duty that night took the injured Thompson to a hospital at the town.

Thompson was later taken back to the police station, and again locked up in the cell, although he had difficulty walking by then.

The next morning, Titsol took Thompson back home. He died that morning.

In his verdict, Judge Ndauendapo found that the evidence before the court proved that Thompson had taken a concealed knife into the cell where he was locked up. He later threatened Vries with the knife, and Vries defended himself, the judge found.

After Thompson's death, Vries told two witnesses that he had kicked Thompson in the cell.

Titsol was convicted of having negligently caused Thompson's death because he had failed to conduct a thorough search of Thompson before he was placed in the cell, failed to carry out a cell visit every 30 minutes as required in the police's operational manual, and had failed to see to it that Thompson received medical attention of the morning of his release.

Titsol told the court before his sentencing that he knew Thompson and that, in his capacity as a church pastor, he had provided counselling to Thompson about his marital problems and drinking habits, Judge Ndauendapo recounted on Friday. Titsol also told the court that he felt sorry that Thompson's two children would have to grow up without their father.

Society expects that people in police custody should be taken to a hospital promptly when they need medical attention, the judge said.

Thompson was employed at Telecom Namibia at the time of his death, the court heard.

Titsol's defence lawyer, Christie Mostert, informed the judge after the sentencing that Titsol plans to appeal against his conviction.

Deputy Prosecutor Belinda Wantenaar prosecuted.

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