Warden fired for jailbreak deal

By Marianne Nghidengwa

TEN correctional officers were either charged and dismissed while others resigned from the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) for smuggling drugs and cellphones into various facilities, including a female officer who allegedly assisted American murder suspect Marcus Thomas’ failed jailbreak.

Thomas and his co-accused Kevin Townsend are suspects in the cold-blooded killing of 25 year-old Andre Peter Heckmair in Windhoek on 7 January 2011. Heckmair was shot in the head at short range in a cul-de-sac in Klein Windhoek, where the two foreigners allegedly lured him to.

In 2014, Thomas managed to get out of his cell and succeeded to scale one of the fences separating the prison building from the outside world, before getting his right foot caught in the barbed wire fence. He was found dangling upside down on the razor wire barrier, bleeding and crying for help.

Confidente understands that Thomas was helped by a female officer in his attempt to break free from prison. The officer was subsequently charged and quietly suspended from the NCS that same year.

NCS Commissioner-General Raphael Hamunyela said the prison break was a team effort and there was money involved. “It was a team effort. There was definitely money involved because we have learned that officers don’t do things for free. The officer dismissed was found with incriminating records on her mobile phone,” Hamunyela said.

He added that Thomas was well informed and aware of areas to avoid that had cameras to monitor movements of offenders. “There are no alarms and cameras on the facilities’ cells for privacy reasons, as stipulated. We only have those in the courtyard and corridors and as such he was well-aware and informed [about] what areas to avoid to make his prison break.”

Of the nine correctional officers, four were charged since January 2018 for their involvement in illegal transactions of money belonging to offenders, amounting to over N$250 000. According to NCS Head:  Directorate Central Staff – Commissioner Sam Shaalulange, the money also includes N$200 000 that belonged to murder convict Lazarus Shaduka.

Shaduka’s money according to media reports disappeared from his bank account between 2017 and 2018. The officer implicated resigned from his job. The case is before the High Court.

Another officer involved in illegal transactions involving money of offenders stopped reporting for work without explanation, but has since been arrested and is in police custody. Another officer on the same charge resigned once served with the charge sheet.

Four other correctional service officers were charged for being in possession of cellphones while working in the facilities. One resigned, while disciplinary enquiry is ongoing for the other three.  Shaalulange said that cellphones present a huge risk in correctional facilities.

“Cellphones can be used to coordinate security-related incidents by tipping off others to plan escapes. People also tend to coordinate illegal transactions while in correctional facilities. The mobile devices can also be used to threaten witnesses or plan attacks.

“We take this matter so serious that even our officers are not allowed to work with cellphones while in facilities. That is why we introduced the telio-telephone system, which is controlled and does not have functions of a cellphone,” Shaalulange explained.

Two other officers were dismissed for their role in smuggling mandrax and cannabis into correctional facilities.

Hamunyela warned that, “It is our mandate to ensure the secure and humane custody of offenders, to rehabilitate and reintegrate them to community. In order for us to carry out that mandate, we need officers to comply with legal instruments that regulate the operation of correctional service.

“Any officer who is found inciting or influencing or assisting offenders to commit crime will be booted out from the NCS. There is no compromise, the result is that we dismiss them within a short period of time.”

Four members of the public who visited the facilities were also arrested for smuggling in various illegal items since January 2018. One was arrested for smuggling in a cellphone, tobacco and cannabis, while a second was nabbed for attempting to smuggle mandrax, cannabis and cocaine into a facility. A third visitor was arrested for smuggling in cannabis and tobacco while another was apprehended for smuggling in a cellphone.