Middelburg woman must get R540,000 from the Minister of Police, court rules

“This type of unruly behaviour by the police must be discouraged at all costs,” says judge after unlawful arrest

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A woman who was wrongfully arrested and detained has been awarded R540,000 in damages from the Minister of Police. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Middelburg High Court Judge Mpopelele Langa has awarded a woman who was wrongfully arrested more than half a million rand in damages from the Minister of Police.
  • Sales representative Juanita Wigg was arrested in public, handcuffed, taken to the police station and strip-searched in April 2019. She was released without charge.
  • She sued for R1-million. Lawyers for the minister argued that she should get damages of only R20,000.
  • But the judge said “the circumstances under which the arrest and detention took place call for stern censure” and awarded her R540,000.

A Middelburg sales representative has been awarded R540,000 in damages after she was wrongfully arrested, in full public view, and then detained for 40 minutes at the local police station during which she was “strip-searched”.

In a recent judgment in the Middelburg division of the Mpumalanga High Court, Judge Mpopelele Langa said there was no doubt that Juanita Wigg’s dignity had been “desecrated” by the events of 30 April 2019.

“This type of unruly behaviour by the police should not be tolerated and must be discouraged at all costs,” the judge said.

Read the judgment

Wigg was 29 and working as a sales representative on that morning when she went to a client’s house to drop off a quotation.

After she reversed out of the driveway, she was stopped by two police officers who, after looking through her phone and searching her handbag and car — apparently looking for drugs — handcuffed her and took her to the police station where a female officer ordered her to strip to her underwear and searched her.

She was released without charge 40 minutes later.

She sued the Minister of Police for unlawful arrest and detention.

Lawyers for the minister initially opposed the matter, claiming the officers had seen her reversing out of the property of a known drug dealer and reasonably suspected that she had committed an offence. But later they conceded and the only issue to be determined by Judge Langa was what she should be paid.

Wigg wanted R1-million. But lawyers for the minister argued that R20,000 would be “fair compensation” because she had only been detained for 40 minutes and had not been placed in a cell.

In considering what Wigg should be paid, Judge Langa took into account her evidence that she was in tears throughout the incident and that she had testified that she felt completely vulnerable and embarrassed.

The officers had “taunted her” and at the police station they had said she must be searched by “the toughest one” - apparently referring to a female police captain.

The judge said there was no denying that the arrest had been done in full view of the public and had gravely embarrassed and humiliated her.

“Although there is no evidence to conclude that the arrest and detention was malicious, I am, however, satisfied that the police officers were harsh in arresting her in the manner they did, including physically hurting her with the handcuffs.

“I also doubt the necessity of the handcuffs given her petite stature and the fact that there is no evidence that she resisted arrest.”

The judge said the police had not been “circumspect” and had arrested her in a “dramatic fashion” in spite of her protests of innocence and her offer to follow them to the police station in her car.

“Moreover, the manner in which they mocked her with their sneering remarks during the arrest and the fact that no apology was offered to her also aggravates the aggressive nature of the arrest and consequent violation of her rights.”

Further, Judge Langa said, although the body search was done by a female officer, “it nevertheless constituted an unwarranted and avoidable invasion of her right to dignity, privacy and bodily integrity which the court has to take into account in determining the compensation amount”.

Judge Langa said Wigg was certainly entitled to more than the suggested “meagre” R20,000 but compensation of R1-million, as claimed by her, was too high.

“There is nevertheless no doubt in my mind that the circumstances under which the arrest and detention took place call for stern censure,” he said, ordering the minister to pay her R540,000 and her legal costs.

TOPICS:  Policing

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