Claimant just 16 when he was forced to spend 18 days in cell with 52 men
A Uitenhage man who was just 16 years old when he was thrown into a cell with 52 grown men for 18 days has succeeded in his civil claim against the police and been awarded damages. Patrick Klaas, now 21, said his time locked up in a filthy cell, where he saw a man being stabbed, still haunted him.
His mother, Sylvia Klaas, 58, said the trauma of the experience had caused her son’s life to spiral out of control.
He dropped out of school and quit his part-time job as a taxi jockey.
On Wednesday last week, the Safety and Security Minister (now Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko) opted to settle the matter and paid up for the damages caused.
The Herald agreed not to disclose the amount of money paid out.
Sylvia, a hawker who sells fruit and vegetables at the Uitenhage taxi rank, said she spent several days frantically searching for her son following his arrest on September 29 2011.
When she arrived at the KwaNobuhle police station where Klaas was detained for three days before he was transferred to St Albans Prison, she was informed he was not there.
Klaas’s desperate attempts to inform the police that he was a minor and should accordingly be detained in a separate cell also fell on deaf ears.
He was arrested – without a warrant – on a charge of housebreaking, after his palm print was found on the exterior wall of a house in Jansie Street.
The case was later withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.
Klaas said after questioning by the police, during which time he vehemently denied any involvement in the housebreaking, he was placed in a cell at the KwaNobuhle police station.
He said he informed the arresting officer that he was only 16, but was told that he was lying.
“I slept on a mattress on the floor. Everything smelled bad. I was too scared to sleep,” Klaas said on Monday.
He only made his first court appearance three days later, and not within the prescribed 48 hours.
He was granted bail of R500 but said he did not have the means to pay it.
On October 3, he was transferred to St Albans Prison, where he said things went from bad to worse.
“There were about 52 people in my cell. I was bossed around. It was terrifying. I thought I might be raped or killed.”
After someone was stabbed in his cell, he decided to join a gang for protection.
He eventually managed to phone his mother from St Albans on October 4.
“I had been so worried. I thought he might have been killed. He was just a child and not used to those types of things,” Sylvia said.
“That was when I went to see a lawyer to try and assist us.”
On October 17, attorney Kailash Karsan faxed a copy of Klaas’s birth certificate to the police.
Despite this, Klaas was detained for a further two nights before he was released on October 19.
Karsan said according to the constitution, Klaas should have been detained separately from other detainees who were over the age of 18.
There was an express duty on the SA Police Service to follow the procedures as set out in the Child Justice Act, he said.
According to papers filed with the Port Elizabeth High Court, the SAPS members should have known that Klaas was a minor and that his arrest and detention were without justification and without probable cause.
“By taking simple investigative steps, the SAPS could have easily ascertained that [Klaas] was a minor,” the papers state.
In addition, Karsan said the SAPS members:
- Failed to inform a probation officer of Klaas’s arrest;
- Ought to have known that, based on the sole evidence of a palm print, the state would not prosecute; and
- Failed to inform the magistrate when he appeared that Klaas was a minor.
Sylvia said the money would enable her son to get the psychological help he now needed.