A Mozambican taxi driver who was dragged behind a police van and died in custody was in a car accident that killed five school children just days before his death, a South African court heard Monday.
Twenty-seven-year-old Mido Macia faced charges of culpable homicide over the incident, Lokhimbar Dikotope, a lawyer defending the nine policemen charged with his murder said at a bail hearing.
The defence appeared to argue that some of Macia’s injuries uncovered by an autopsy may have been a result of the accident, after prosecutors said Macia was brutally abused before and after his arrest.
No further details about the car accident were given.
Bystanders on February 26 filmed Macia being manhandled, handcuffed to the back of the van and dragged hundreds of metres through the streets of Daveyton, a town east of Johannesburg.
Just over two hours later he was found dead in his cell, with extensive injuries, including cuts and bleeding on the brain, in a case that shocked South Africa and the world.
An autopsy found he died of hypoxia, or lack of oxygen related to the transport of air in the body, sometimes caused by damaged lungs.
At Monday’s bail hearing, the court heard about the extent of his injuries.
“The deceased died of internal injuries that demonstrate the degree of violence inflicted,” said prosecutor December Mthimunye, reading from an internal police investigator’s affidavit.
Investigators ordered a second autopsy after diplomatic embarrassment over the incident, which was initially blamed on a jail fight.
Internal police investigator Mandla Mahlangu said he saw Macia “bleeding in his cell.”
He had blood “even in his heart”, Mthimunye said, quoting the postmortem report. “And this happened in the police station.”
“Further examination of the cell shows bloods spots on the walls and the floors,” he added.
Macia was already injured when he arrived at the station, contrary to police claims, he said.
“He was crying and bleeding and he already had some open head wounds,” he said, adding: “When he was booked into his cell he was not wearing any trousers.”
Macia was later found lying on his back wearing a red shirt and black underwear briefs.
The accused officers “flouted operational procedures” by not even calling an ambulance, said Mthimunye.
He argued the policemen should not be granted bail as such a move could disrupt public peace. He said the men were in danger of reprisal attacks and could interfere with evidence because some witnesses were their colleagues.
The defence, meanwhile, questioned how the accused could have caused Macia’s death.
“Can dragging cause a lack of oxygen?” asked lawyer Elisa Tshole.
“The state does not provide us with the respective roles of these individuals… which ultimately lead to the deceased’s death.”
“The person in charge of the police cells that day, he is the one who can clarify,” added Tshole.
The hearing was postponed to Tuesday, when a ruling is also expected.
Police had to protect defence lawyers when a small crowd attacked them leaving the court.
On Friday, the nine policemen said at a hearing at Benoni magistrate’s court they were not guilty.
They said Macia, a minibus taxi driver, had assaulted a policeman while resisting arrest after being confronted for parking his taxi on the wrong side of the road.
The driver of the police van claimed he drove away to escape the angry crowd that had gathered, and did not know Macia was being dragged behind.
None of the accused explained how the Mozambican ended up cuffed to the van or dead in his cell.
Footage of the incident went viral and cast a spotlight yet again on the conduct of South Africa’s much maligned police force.
Macia’s family plans to sue the police ministry for damages, their lawyers said Sunday.
Around 2,000 people attended Macia’s funeral in his hometown Matola in southern Mozambique on Saturday.