Inmates win prison assault lawsuits

Marcus Thomas

Two inmates who sued the prison authorities after they had been assaulted by correctional officers have each been awarded N$50 000 in judgements handed down in the Windhoek High Court this week.

The two inmates – United States citizen Marcus Thomas, who is being held in custody at Windhoek Correctional Facility, and Hardap Correctional Facility prisoner Wilfred Rooi – were each awarded N$50 000 in damages in connection with incidents in which they were assaulted by baton-wielding prison warders.

In a judgement delivered on Wednesday, judge Hannelie Prinsloo found that a prison officer used excessive force when he beat Thomas with a T-baton to break up a physical confrontation between Thomas and a fellow inmate in an office at Windhoek Correctional Facility on 13 January 2017.

Thomas, who is being prosecuted on a charge of murder and other counts in a long-running trial in the High Court, exaggerated the nature of the assault on him, Prinsloo commented.

However, she found that a prison warder, senior superintendent Silas Mateus, hit Thomas repeatedly with a baton and that this beating was not warranted.

“I believe that the assault on the plaintiff [Thomas] was excessive and that the plaintiff could have been subdued with minimal force,” Prinsloo stated.

In a judgement delivered on Tuesday, judge Eileen Rakow also concluded that a prison warder’s assault on Rooi was not justified.

The two judges decided that the government and prison authorities should pay Thomas and Rooi each an amount of N$50 000, plus interest at an annual rate of 20% on that amount from the date of their judgements until the amount has been paid in full.

Rooi claimed an amount of N$650 000 from the minister of home affairs, immigration and safety and security and the prison authorities.

Marcus initially claimed N$1,1 million from the minister of safety and security, the commissioner general of the Namibian Correctional Service, Mateus, and four other prison warders.

Rooi told the court he was assaulted at Hardap Correctional Facility on 14 March 2021, when a prison officer punched and slapped him, kicked him and struck him on the forehead with a T-baton.

Rooi sustained an open wound on his forehead in the assault.

He also told the court the prison warder kicked him on his private parts and that he has been unable to get an erection since then.

In her judgement, Rakow said there was no medical report substantiating Rooi’s allegation that his private parts were injured, and concluded that those claims could not hold water.

In Thomas’ case, the court heard that he had been involved in a physical altercation with another prisoner, who was accused of being an informer for the prison authorities, on 13 January 2017.

According to Mateus, Thomas attacked the other prisoner by punching him during that incident.

Thomas was summoned to Mateus’ office after the fight with the other prisoner. Mateus said the other prisoner was also in the office, and Thomas grabbed him and held him in his grip when that prisoner tried to leave the office.

Mateus said he then hit Thomas with a baton to make him release the other prisoner from his grip.

Thomas told the court 30 to 35 correctional officers were present in Mateus’ office and that they launched a free-for-all assault on him, during which he was beaten with batons all over his body and in his face and was also kicked.

Thomas testified that during one of the rounds of the assault on him, he was hit 100 times and also received the same number of kicks in his face, Prinsloo recounted in her judgement.

A medical doctor who treated Thomas at Katutura Intermediate Hospital after the assault recorded that he was badly bruised over his upper body and also had swollen eyes. The doctor did not observe any open wounds on Thomas.

Prinsloo remarked that Thomas’ version about the number of correctional officers who were in Mateus’ office was implausible, given the size of the office.

She also said the medical doctor’s description of the nature of Thomas’ injuries is not aligned with the magnitude of the assault alleged by Thomas.

Prinsloo commented: “With the greatest deference to [Thomas], he only compromised his credibility by exaggerating what happened on the day in question. The plaintiff was his own worst enemy during his evidence by exaggerating facts that are largely common cause (specifically that [Mateus] had beaten the plaintiff).”

Lawyers Salomon Kanyemba and Ileni Velikoshi represented Thomas and Rooi, respectively.

The minister and prison authorities were represented by deputy government attorney Mkhululi Khupe in Thomas’ case, and Ndiriraro Kauari in Rooi’s case.

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