'I hope you get the virus' - senior Cape Town cop to be probed for alleged heavy-handedness

A senior police officer is to be investigated for allegedly threatening an elderly woman, a pregnant woman and several Cape Town residents in the Muizenberg area that were arrested for alleged lockdown breaches, saying to them: "I hope you get the virus."

The elderly woman was doubly traumatised because the officer was not wearing a protective mask when he blurted his alleged message, just centimetres from her face.

Also, SAPS officials from the station have since been self-isolated by police management after potential contact with a positive Covid-19 case.

These are among several allegations levelled at police in Muizenberg, Cape Town, by an elderly woman arrested 15 minutes after the "exercise window" ended - a few hundred metres from her home.

The woman is aged 62, and tried to tell police she was late arriving back home because she had slowed on her walk, due to a knee injury.

Instead, she endured a seven-hour ordeal at a police station.

Covid-19 tracker: All the latest figures as the coronavirus spreads in SA It allegedly took place at the same police station which has been criticised for being "over-zealous", and not using "logic or common sense" in some instances, by their provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Yolisa Matakata.

The comments of the provincial police commissioner refer to the arrest of a mother and father who ran on to a beach to fetch their toddler - and were arrested for breaking the "lockdown" regulations.

The 62-year-old woman had been with her son, aged 20, last Tuesday, when they were arrested.

The pair have spoken of their trauma - asking that their names be kept confidential until authorities investigate their case.

They had been walking in Muizenberg, near the fresh-water vlei, during the 06:00-09:00 "exercise window".

READ | Smoke and mirrors: 4 minutes – that's how long it took to find banned cigarettes during lockdown The woman said she had a knee injury - had slowed on her walk - and underestimated the time it would take to return home. As a result, she and her son had neared their home at around 09:15.

There, they encountered police, who arrested them, bundled them into a police vehicle, and took them to the Muizenberg SAPS police station.

There, they joined several more people arrested. Among them was the "ocean protester", who was arrested for "standing still" during the exercise window, as captured by News24 in a video which has since gone viral.

Among the allegations by the elderly woman and her son are:

- A policeman manhandled the son without cause;

- A policeman slammed the woman's foot in a car door;

- A senior officer leaned into the woman's face and said, "I hope you get the virus", just centimetres from her face, without himself wearing a mask. He verbally abused the pair, and other arrested citizens, saying he hoped they were infected with the coronavirus and "learnt their lesson";

- Police fingerprinted arrested residents without wearing gloves, or sanitising their hands, to prevent potential transmission;

- A pregnant woman was detained at the police station for seven hours, in the company of a suspected drug addict, "coughing and sneezing with no mask", "which put all of us under more stress and risk"; and,

- Police allegedly threatened the couple with detention for 48 hours, behind bars, unless they signed admission-of-guilt fines of R1 000 each.

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After signing - they claim under duress - the pair were released seven hours after their detention. The pair have described the entire ordeal as a grave affront to their dignity.

The pair's description of what transpired has been relayed to a medical doctor, who treated the couple afterwards, when the son was treated for trauma suffered at the hands of police.

The identity of the senior police officer in question, against whom several of the allegations have specifically been made, is known to News24.

The incident has been reported to the chairperson of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament's Ad-Hoc Committee on Covid-19, Mireille Wenger, who has committed to referring the complaint to the relevant SAPS oversight bodies.

READ | Taxi driver who continued working after positive test faces attempted murder charges

On Wednesday, the day after their ordeal, Matakata told the committee that police had been "over-zealous" in arresting Muizenberg's Liam Bulgen and Tereza Cervinkova, who were arrested for running on to the beach to fetch their 21-month-old daughter, Florence, who had run on to the sand.

The top cop further said it was not acceptable that SAPS officials had not been wearing protective masks or gloves when arresting and transporting the young family.

Similarly, the 62-year-old woman and her 20-year-old son told News24 that police had not worn protective gear throughout their own ordeal.

In a subsequent twist, the Muizenberg police station has been closed, after potential exposure to a Covid-19 case. The police officials have since been sent home to self-quarantine.

Wenger told News24 she was aware of the alleged incident, and said: "I have been approached by concerned residents about some very concerning complaints and allegations of police misconduct and heavy-handedness. These must be investigated by impartial oversight agencies as soon as possible."

WATCH | Cape Town man speaks out as cops hunt pair who torched his car In response to the allegations, the office of the provincial police commissioner on Sunday evening told News24 a senior officer had immediately been appointed to investigate the allegations.

"The SAPS has noted with concern the allegations made by the Muizenberg residents you interviewed against a SAPS member. The allegations are viewed by the SAPS management in a serious light," wrote Brigadier Novela Potelwa.

"Firstly, the SAPS, as a law enforcement agency, is governed by prescripts and directives in terms of the execution of its mandate. It is on this basis the claims made against the senior police official, referred to in the media enquiry, are viewed in a serious light.

"If proven to be true, the allegations would be in breach of the SAPS code of conduct and internal directives that govern the conduct of police officials. Taking into account the seriousness of the allegations, your enquiry has prompted the institution of an internal investigation into the allegations made.

"The Western Cape Provincial Commissioner, Lt General Matakata, has appointed a senior police official to probe the matter. Once the investigation is finalised, the outcome will be made known.

"As the SAPS Western Cape, we wish to reiterate our commitment to serving all communities fairly and with dignity, even during this period of the Covid-19 restrictions," the Brigadier said.