Trial over police attack begins

10 May 2021 | Justice

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK

The trial in which a transgender Namibian is suing a police officer for alleged assault for N$200 000 starts today in the Windhoek High Court.

Jasper Cloete, a transgender woman who identifies as Mercedez von Cloete, in 2017 brought the lawsuit against the ministry of safety and security after she was allegedly assaulted in the early morning hours 6 July 2017 after buying chicken at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) branch in Windhoek’s city centre.

Cloete says she was accosted by plainclothes police officers at around 02:30 am in the morning inside the KFC. She was bundled into a police van, handcuffed and assaulted by an officer only identified as “Officer Kavari” in the van on the way to the police station.

She claims during the attack the officer repeatedly assaulted her physically and verbally by labelling her with derogatory terms based on her gender identity.

The incident took place in front of a witness, a friend of Cloete’s, who was also in the police van.

After she was driven to a nearby police station, camera footage shows she was again attacked outside the police station. Cloete says she was beaten and kicked because she demanded to know why she had been taken into custody.

The police admit that a “struggle” took place that was captured on CCTV footage.

They argue however that Kavari was provoked when Cloete attacked him.

The police say an officer Kavari simply “retaliated in self-defence by throwing punches back at the plaintiff (Cloete) who then went down gasping for air.”

In her witness statement, Cloete says her friend who had been allowed to accompany her from KFC, picked her up and took her into the police station, where they reported the assault by the plainclothes police officers. She claims she was told to return the next day to open a case.

Horror

Laurika Letitia Williams, a friend who assisted Cloete in the days after the attack, informed the court that when she first saw the CCTV footage she was “horrified.”

“I saw the plaintiff (Cloete) being brutally manhandled by one particular officer. The officer on the footage had a much bigger body than the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s friend, who was present, attempted to intervene at some point but failed.”

Cloete says other police officers who stood nearby refused to intervene.

Williams says the footage “was extremely difficult and horrific to watch. In my opinion, the plaintiff deserves justice. The plaintiff was distraught and visibly shaken up, even after the assault; she was very brave for returning to the station where the assault was perpetrated.”

Williams says in the aftermath of the attack Cloete has lived in constant fear and “has changed significantly from the person I knew prior to the incident.”

Cloete says the fact she was assaulted for merely buying chicken has instilled in her a deep and constant fear that a similar incident can “happen at any moment.”

The safety and security ministry denies any wrongdoing.

They claim the officers were simply carrying out their duty by “removing the plaintiff who was causing a disturbance in a public place.”

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