THE parents of a one-month-old baby boy have been left shattered after the infant died following what they say was a nightmare ride in the back of a police van.
The couple was allegedly forced to ride in the back of the van with their two children after reporting an incident of theft.
A case of culpable homicide has now been opened against the police officer, who they claim drove recklessly, resulting in them and their two children being thrown around in the police van and the baby sustaining fatal head injuries.
Stephanus Eiseb (39), the baby's father, said they went to Epako Police Station in the Omaheke region to report the theft of their blankets by a family member so that the police could help retrieve them. He said they had gone to the police station shortly before 22h00.
According to Eiseb, when they got to the station they were assigned an officer to help them but he appeared to be inebriated. The officer told the couple to climb into the back of the police van with the two children.
Lucia Cloete (31), the baby's mother, had her one-year-old toddler strapped to her back and the one-month-old baby strapped to her front.
Eiseb said during the 'hellish' ride, at one point the officer made a sharp turn and they were again thrown around and the baby bashed his head into the side of the vehicle. The baby reportedly cried loudly and then went silent after a while and appeared to fall asleep. "We did not realise anything was wrong as it was too dark in the police van," Cloete said.
Eiseb said they arrived at the relative's house and recovered their blankets. The officer then left them stranded and they had to walk back to their home in the dark. Cloete said the incident happened on 21 April, the same day their son, Gabriel Cloete, turned a month old.
"Once we got home, my wife asked me to hold the baby while she made the bed, but when she handed him over to me, he was ice cold," Eiseb said.
Eiseb said when he inspected the baby there was a dent in the baby's head and he was bleeding from his left nostril.
"We are really hurt. We wanted to raise this little boy that just left us suddenly. He was not even sick," the couple said.
According to Eiseb, they waited until 07h00 the next morning, as they had no transport to take the baby to the hospital.
"We did not get help until another police officer came to pick the baby's body up in the morning to take him to the hospital. The officer also advised us to look into the cause of death," Eiseb said.
A case of culpable homicide was opened at Epako Police Station, Gobabis. The Omaheke police commander, Haingura Andreas, confirmed the incident.
"I am aware of the allegations and the matter is still under investigation," Andreas said.
According to the medical report, the baby's cause of death is still under investigation.
Human rights activist Rosa Namises said what happened to the couple is sad and that many such incidents often go unpunished. "The officer was wrong, however, he might get away with what he did, as the parents have no power," Namises said.
She suggested that the parents report the matter to the police's disciplinary department or to the Office of the Ombudsman. Namises also called on community members and activists to stand with the parents so that justice can be served.
"Councillors should also help speak up for them, as they need someone to speak for them," Namises said.
Human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe said this is the type of case he could take up on behalf of the parents, but he would like to communicate with them directly before commenting any further.
Ombusdman John Walters said he cannot comment on the matter, as he does not know the details of the case. He said he would communicate with the parents once the article is published, so that his office can look into the matter.
Police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga yesterday told The Namibian that although he is not aware of the case, he believes the intention of the police officer was to drive to the scene of the incident while providing transport to the complainants, who had a choice to decline his offer.
"I believe there was no intention to drive with the baby inside the bakkie. He did not force them to get into the bakkie. They could have easily said 'no, we are not going into the bakkie'. The choice was on them to decide that the one with the baby should remain behind or take a more comfortable transport.
"It is a complicated issue because you and I were not there. [...] That officer was on duty and they have the onus to prove that the police officer was drunk. Why did they not report that the police officer was drunk before getting into the vehicle?" he said, adding that the police also have no special vehicle to transport people.
Ndeitunga also said he is not sure if there is a law that prohibits the transporting of newborn babies at the rear of a pickup. He referred The Namibian to the transport ministry. Transport minister John Mutowra said he is unaware of a law restricting babies from travelling inside a pickup.