Despite charges against him for violating the curfew during an emergency being dropped, a Pretoria father will be pursuing legal action against the officers who arrested him as well as the SAPS.
Naas le Roux was arrested on January 7 because he had broken the curfew to buy formula milk for his newborn baby at the Clicks pharmacy at Unitas Hospital. The baby was born on January 6 and Le Roux’s wife, Natasha, was discharged from hospital the day after.
Even though his wife was breastfeeding, a complication emerged with the baby’s feeding and, according to Le Roux, he had to drive to the emergency pharmacy at the hospital on the Friday at about 1 am to buy formula milk.
Upon his return, two SAPS officers pulled him over about 250m from his home. According to Le Roux, they refused to listen to reason or to grasp that he had been breaking the curfew because of an emergency, even though he showed them the can of formula and the receipt.
Le Roux recorded the encounter on his cellphone, in which there was heated exchange between the parties. “The police officers, who had no visible form of identification or badges, were very aggressive, insulting and verbally intimidating me several times,” he said.
The situation escalated until one of the officers told the father that they were going to arrest him that evening and teach him a lesson.
One of the police officers took his car keys from his vehicle and tried to prevent him from recording the conversation. He was allowed to phone his wife, and she had to walk about 250m to the car, carrying her newborn baby, who was restless from hunger, to get the formula milk. “She begged the police officers to let me go, but they simply refused.”
One of the police officers then asked his wife if she could drive. She then had to drive home with her baby on her lap, while the police officers arrested her husband and put him in the back of a police vehicle and told her that she could follow them to the police station to pay her husband’s bail.
According to his wife, at the police station after feeding the baby, a warrant officer warned her to leave and go home immediately or face arrest. She went home and obtained legal assistance for her husband, who was later released from custody.
Le Roux said he was very traumatised by the situation: “It is disappointing to see what the police did. When you expect to get help, they did the opposite. We are hurt, but at this stage, we take it day by day, something you wish to forget but it sticks to your mind, sticks to your mind when you are at work or driving. It also has changed the way I view the police.”
He said he felt relieved that the charges had been dropped, but the whole matter scared him, and an apology would not make it disappear. “It is difficult to have a positive view when you think back and see a police vehicle, as to what will happen.”
AfriForum got involved in the matter, and yesterday its chief executive, Kallie Kriel, said they welcomed the decision not to prosecute Le Roux, but the organisation would put pressure on the SAPS’s investigations team. AfriForum would also support them with the internal investigation of the police officers’ alleged misconduct during the incident, he added.
“However, it increasingly seems that certain law enforcers are abusing the lockdown regulations to bully ordinary law-abiding citizens rather than to focus on fighting serious crime,” he said.
Advocate Gerrie Nel, head of AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit, said the action of the SAPS in this case clearly pointed to a lack of training, as well as a failure to understand the purpose of the lockdown regulations.
“The purpose of the regulations is not, as Police Minister Bheki Cele Police proudly announced, to burden 7 000 people with criminal records because they are not wearing masks, but to lighten the burden on hospitals by stopping the spread of the virus.”
Le Roux’s legal representative, Lily Rautenbach, said they would be suing. “We will definitely proceed with suing the relevant police officers and the SAPS, as well as a formal complaint at the police commissioner and relevant authorities … Unlawful arrest is one of the claims, but I do not want to elaborate. We are still formalising everything,” said Rautenbach.