S. Africa cops plead not guilty to killing taxi driver

BENONI, South Africa (AFP) - Nine South African policemen pleaded not guilty on Friday to murdering a Mozambican immigrant who was dragged behind a police van and then brutally beaten to death.

The group are accused of killing Mido Macia, a 27-year-old Mozambican taxi driver, who died in police custody on February 26, after being confronted for parking his taxi on the wrong side of the road.

Bystanders filmed Macia being manhandled, handcuffed to the back of the van and dragged hundreds of metres in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg.

Just over two hours later, he was found dead in his cell.

Footage of the incident spread quickly online and sent shock waves across the world, shining a spotlight yet again on the conduct of South Africa's police force.

According to a post-mortem report seen by AFP, Macia suffered extensive injuries, culminating in hypoxia - a lack of oxygen supply to the body - causing his death.

The report, conducted by pathologist Reggie Perumal, said Macia had extensive abrasions on his face, limbs and body, deep cuts on his forearms and wrists and "almost full thickness lacerations of the head." He also had bruised ribs, back, left and right testes, lips and bite marks on his tongue as well as bleeding and water on the brain.

In bail affidavits, the accused said Macia was dragged behind a police van by accident after resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.

Police had initially claimed he was killed in a fight in his cell.

Almost all expressed "shock" and "surprise" at his death, claiming he had not complained of pain after his arrest.

When asked to move his taxi, Macia "responded by insulting me", said Thamsanqa Ncema, 35, who first confronted the taxi driver.

"He started punching Warrant Officer (Meshack) with the fist," Ncema added.

Reinforcements were called while a crowd gathered, allegedly throwing objects at the police.

None of the accused explained how Macia ended up handcuffed to the back of the van.

On Wednesday, around 1,000 people attended a memorial for Macia at the sports stadium in Daveyton. He is due to be buried outside the Mozambican capital Maputo on Saturday.