Durban – Durban residents who claim they were wrongly arrested for violating lockdown regulations are not taking it lightly. They are planning legal action and have filed complaints against the eThekwini metro police for unlawful arrest.
However, police are adamant they will not “stand back and allow a few people to compromise these efforts”.
Aryan Benevolent Home (ABH) chief executive Naren Pattundeen and builder Roshan Lutchman, who was busy on site with the construction of a Covid-19 isolation ward at the Chatsworth home for the elderly, were among citizens who were “unlawfully” arrested.
The 24-bed ward is part of the facility’s disaster management plan in case of an outbreak at the home.
Lutchman said he and Pattundeen were in possession of valid permits to operate during the lockdown, yet metro police arrested them.
He said he arrived at the home on Monday to find a group of metro police and police members questioning Pattundeen.
He said they produced the required permits and although one of the officers apparently verified them, he had refused to accept them as valid.
“Then they said they were locking everyone up. I had 38 workers on site and we asked how they planned to take us. We said the ABH had buses which could be used to transport us to the station.
“However, they packed us in batches of 12 into a police van and escorted us to Chatsworth police station,” Lutchman said.
He said social distancing was not possible at the police station and everyone was packed into a courtyard until police allowed his workers to leave with a warning.
However, Lutcham and Pattundeen were placed in a cell and only released around 7pm after their attorney intervened and paid their bail of R500 each.
“We have engaged our attorneys to challenge our unlawful arrest. It was disrespectful and demoralising – the way they handled us was as if we were selling drugs or alcohol. Their conduct was really shocking. The ABH staff watched a senior member being arrested like a crook, while my staff watched me being arrested,” he said.
He said he would lodge a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. Pattundeen said all of his documents were in order to provide essential services and it had not been unlawful for him to employ the contractor.
Phoenix resident Deon Naidoo said he was “depressed” and “angry” after metro police arrested him on the M4 while he was on his way to fetch his partially disabled mother-in-law at Addington Hospital last Tuesday.
“They didn’t want to hear anything – they said no, we are going to lock you up. My mother-in-law was phoning me and I said I am getting locked up now, and she said: ‘What about me?’ They put me in the back of the police van,” Naidoo said.
“They never gave me the chance to explain. They kept saying, ‘your mom-in-law is supposed to take a taxi’, but I said she never took a taxi in her life; she is semi-blind,” Naidoo said.
Naidoo said he was held in cells at the Durban North police station until 1pm before being granted bail and told to appear in court in July. “What makes me more angry is that the minister of communications got off with a R1 000 fine and I must pay R1 500 to get out of jail.”
Hammarsdale resident Clynton Swann said metro police arrested him on his way to a Hillcrest supermarket on Tuesday. He said he was taken to Hillcrest police station and issued with a summons to appear in court the next day. However, the matter was thrown out of court as the charge was deemed irrelevant.
Wesley Rodgers, an attorney specialising in criminal and forensic litigation, said he was dealing with several unlawful arrest cases.
These included a case where a woman was arrested in Durban on the way to the dentist and a case in Johannesburg where a student was arrested for buying airtime so that he could submit an assignment.
“Movement is allowed for medical purposes. It is considered an essential service, so obviously by extension, if you are going to take someone to the doctor for medical purposes or collect someone from a doctor or from hospital, movement should be authorised,” he said.
“The regulations say if you are asked for a reason as to why, you are obliged to give them an answer. The police are seemingly either misinterpreting the regulations or making up the rules as they go along,” he said.
Rogers warned people about the consequences of paying an admission of guilt fine. “People get arrested and issued with a summons to appear in court and they have the option to pay the fine in court. The problem is, the minute they pay that fine, they get a criminal record,” he said.
EThekwini metro police spokesperson Steve Middleton said he was not authorised to comment on the matters.
Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo said police would not have to act if people obeyed the regulations.
“It is mind-boggling why anyone would think or say that it is up to the police to ensure that people should stay at home. It is the responsibility of every individual to ensure that he or she stays at home and conforms to the requirements of the regulations,” Naidoo said.
“It has never been the primary approach of the security forces to just arrest people, but if people transgress, then unfortunately they must face the full might of law.
“This country and the majority of its people are making huge sacrifices, both social and economical, to flatten the curve of this virus. We as the security forces are not going to stand back and allow a few people to compromise these efforts.
“That said, every person who is fined or arrested is afforded an opportunity to contest such action,” Naidoo said.
By Lyse Comins