, Johannesburg, Aug 25 – Eight South African policeman were found guilty on Tuesday of murdering a Mozambican man who died after being dragged behind a moving police van in an incident that provoked global outrage.
The shocking treatment of taxi driver Mido Macia, which was captured on film by bystanders, threw the spotlight on South Africa’s police force and frequent allegations of brutality.
The 27-year-old Macia died in police custody in February 2013 after being arrested for parking his car on the wrong side of the road.
Video footage showed Macia being manhandled, handcuffed to the back of a police van and dragged hundreds of metres (yards) in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg.
Just over two hours later he was found dead in his cell in a pool of blood.
In Pretoria’s high court on Tuesday, Judge Bert Bam convicted all eight officers captured on the video of murder, dismissing their defence that Macia violently resisted arrest and had assaulted a police officer.
– ‘Fraught with discrepancies’ –
The driver of the police van had also claimed he drove away to escape an angry crowd that had gathered, and did not know Macia was being dragged behind.
But, describing the defence as “fraught with discrepancies and improbabilities”, the judge agreed with the state’s case that the police were “trying to teach the deceased a lesson” for swearing at the arresting officer.
“The deceased became aggressive and agitated when his licence and vehicle were seized by the policemen. They then decided to arrest him.”
Macia was being “unlawfully arrested and detained” for a minor traffic violation, said Bam, and was therefore “entitled” to resist arrest.
He was then further assaulted in the police cells, said the judge, citing a post-mortem report that found extensive head injuries, lacerations and bruising.
“The soft tissue injuries were extensive; the blunt force injuries were severe,” he said.
“In considering all the evidence, it is clear the deceased was indeed assaulted in the police cell. Accused one to eight are convicted of murder.”
The officers are due to be sentenced on September 22, and could face a minimum of 15 years in jail.
At the time of the incident, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma described the video as “horrific, disturbing and unacceptable”.
“No human being should be treated in that manner,” he said.
South Africa’s police force is frequently embroiled in allegations of brutality, with successful convictions rare.
In 2011, an unarmed protester died after being beaten and shot with rubber bullets by uniformed officers during a protest against government services.
The assault was caught on camera, but all seven accused walked free after vital police witnesses recanted their statements in court.
And in the worst police violence since the end of apartheid, 34 striking miners were gunned down by police in August 2012 at the Marikana platinum mine.
A commission of inquiry condemned the police tactics in a report released in June this year — but no officers have been charged.