An alleged cellphone thief got off the hook after Table View police bungled a basic procedure a prosecutor relies on to identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila says by showing the teenage victim of a mugging a picture of his alleged perpetrator a police officer sank the state’s case against the man.
That’s because the case had rested on the victim being able to identify the accused… not from a single photograph but from out of a line-up at a police identity parade.
Police arrested the 23-year-old suspect in early February after officers spotted the man sitting on a street corner.
He was wearing one glove and a hooded top and had a pair of large scissors in his backpack.
According to the account Table View police spokeswoman Captain Adriana Chandler gave Tabletalk at the time (“Teen identifies cellphone thief,” Tabletalk February 8), one of the officers recalled a teenager having been robbed of his cellphone in Parklands in January by a man fitting the same description.
So the officers arrested the man for carrying a dangerous weapon (the scissors) and then took his photograph, which, according to that earlier police report, was then shown to the teenager who positively identified him as the man who had robbed him of his cellphone on Monday January 23.
The teenager’s mother was shocked though when she heard the man accused of robbing her son had been freed just two days after his arrest on Monday February 6, and after her son had positively identified him from the photograph police had shown him (“Mugger freed, family fumes”, Tabletalk February 22).
The woman told Tabletalk that when her daughter had later asked a Table View SAPS staff member why the suspect had been released she was simply told: “Only the prosecutor knows why.”
Tabletalk pressed Table View police for an explanation without success. Captain Chandler told us she was battling to reach the investigating officer.
Mr Ntabazalila said he had also struggled to get hold of the docket in the case because the investigating officer was not available “as he was working on another case”.
But on Wednesday February 22, Mr Ntabazalila got back to us with information about the case and basically confirmed what Captain Chandler had originally told us.
The investigating officer, he noted, had decided to take “one photo” of the accused, which he had then shown to the teenager.
“The complainant then agreed that the accused was the same person who robbed him. The state declined to prosecute, based on the fact that a proper photo identification (one photo instead of a photo album) was not done and in the absence of other independent, reliable evidence felt that there was no prospect of a successful prosecution,” said Mr Ntabazalila.
Neighbourhood watch members and a law expert also agree that the investigating officer “messed up” by not following correct procedure.
Pamela Schwikkard, Professor of Public Law at UCT, said: “The NPA is correct. Unless they can find other evidence they cannot do much now that they have shown the crime victim the photograph. Obviously they cannot now do an identity parade.
“Sometimes police will take other photographs of the same suspect but one photo is not enough and they would have to have matching photos of the suspect in an identity parade but once they have messed up this is not possible.”
A Table View Neighbourhood Watch member, who did not want to be named, said: “The investigating officer did it wrong. The general procedure to follow is that the crime victim is requested to attend an identity parade and it is necessary to have a photo taken of the crime victim pointing to or touching the suspect’s shoulder.”
Liza Grobler, an independent consultant criminologist, said: “It does appear that the investigating officer should have presented a photographic line-up of different mugshots rather than one photograph.”
Meanwhile, the mother of the teen is “completely frustrated” and still wants answers from Table View police.
“This is my second encounter with Table View police station. That means cases lodged by myself at Table View police station end up nowhere although evidence is there,” she said, referring to a case she reported late in 2015. Tabletalk emailed the NPA’s statement to Table View station commander Colonel Dirk Vosloo on Thursday February 23 and asked for comment.
We copied Captain Chandler in on a follow-up email on Sunday February 26.
She responded the same day by copying us in on an email to Colonel Vosloo’s office requesting information as to whether he had received our initial email but by the time of going to print there was no further response.