Even police officers clamored to get photos of Oscar Pistorius on their cellphones after the famed Olympic athlete was arrested for the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, South Africa's minister of police said in a written response to a question in parliament.
Forty-nine cellphones were confiscated from officers at Boschkop police station in Pretoria after they were used to take photographs of Pistorius when he was being transferred between court and the station soon after his arrest, wrote police minister Nathi Mthethwa in a reply to parliament on Monday and seen by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"This action was necessary after it came to light that photos were taken of a high profile individual who had been arrested," Mthethwa wrote.
The minister said four "official" cellphones and 45 private phones were taken from the officers on Feb. 20, six days after Pistorius' arrest. They could be used as evidence in possible disciplinary proceedings against the police officers, Mthethwa said. Mthethwa did not reveal how many officers had taken photos of Pistorius or how many — if any — are facing disciplinary action.
Pistorius was initially held at Boschkop, a station close to his home in suburban Pretoria, after being arrested on Feb. 14 following the killing of Steenkamp at his house in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day. The Olympian was later moved to another police station for his bail hearing at Pretoria Magistrate's Court.
South Africa's ministry of police declined to give further details on the cellphone photos and any possible disciplinary action against police officers, but the sensational Pistorius case has already cast doubts on the professionalism of South Africa's force. The former lead investigating officer, Hilton Botha, gave shaky evidence in court during Pistorius' bail hearing and it later emerged that Botha himself was facing seven charges of attempted murder. Botha was removed from the case and later resigned from the South African police.
Despite the intense public interest in Pistorius, only one image of the double-amputee runner has emerged since he was freed on bail on Feb. 22. The photograph, also a cellphone photo but taken by a high school student, shows Pistorius wearing running gear and walking on his famous carbon fiber running blades when he visited his practice track at the University of Pretoria last month.