RESIGNS–Investigating officer Hilton Botha, sits inside the court witness box during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing at the magistrate court in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)
by Christopher Torchia
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The former lead detective in South Africa’s investigation of the murder case against Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has resigned from the police force, police said Thursday.
The decision by detective Hilton Botha to quit followed criticism for his bungling of the investigation into Pistorius’ shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14, as well as the revelation that he faced attempted murder charges for a 2011 case in which he fired at a vehicle.
The police force as a whole came under scrutiny for the initial decision to assign Botha, a relatively junior officer, to a high-profile case involving an international celebrity. South African police practices came under more intense criticism last week after a taxi driver from Mozambique was dragged from a police vehicle and later died in detention east of Johannesburg.
Brig. Neville Malila, a police spokesman, said Botha voluntarily applied to leave the service, and said police would not divulge his reasons.
“It was his initiative. He applied for the resignation and the exit interviews were conducted with him,” Malila said. “He still maintained that he wanted to leave the service and we honored his wish.”
Botha made several errors as the lead investigator after the double-amputee athlete shot Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria, the South African capital.
He walked through the crime scene without wearing protective shoe covers, potentially contaminating the area; gave conflicting estimates of the distance of the house of a potential witness; and was criticized by the judge in the athlete’s bail hearing for failing to secure data from cellular telephones found at the scene of the shooting.
It later emerged that Botha faced attempted murder charges for a case in which he and two other officers fired on a vehicle in an attempt to make it stop. His superiors then removed him from the Pistorius case, replacing him with a senior investigator, police Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo.
Rudolph Zinn, a former detective who lectures at the School of Criminal Justice and Police Practice at the University of South Africa, said it should have been standard procedure to assign a top official from the beginning of the Pistorius case.
“A senior person should be appointed as soon as possible to take over the investigation’s management to make sure that the crime scene is processed accordingly,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press last month.
Pistorius, who was freed on bail, says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her through a locked bathroom door. Prosecutors believe the shooting happened after the couple got into an argument.
The Olympian’s next court appearance is scheduled for June 4.
Also Thursday, a South African public relations company said it will no longer represent Pistorius. Janine Hills, the head of Vuma Reputation Management, said the Pistorius family is in a “stronger position” to handle media issues, but that her company will continue to provide guidance. She said in an email to the AP that a “handover process” had been under way since March 1.