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September 25, 2018

Verdict linking cops to Monson killing gives hope to police brutality victims

Alexander Monson's mother Hillary Martin and her husband John Lockhart-Mure alongside family lawyer Alfred Olaba /MALEMBA MKONGO
Alexander Monson's mother Hillary Martin and her husband John Lockhart-Mure alongside family lawyer Alfred Olaba /MALEMBA MKONGO

The judgment by a Mombasa magistrate implicating four police officers in the murder of a Briton revived hopes for many families who have lost loved ones in the hands of police.

Alexander Monson died in 2012 at the age of 28, a few hours after he was arrested by officers from Diani police station and detained. He developed breathing problems in the cell and was rushed to Palm Beach Hospital, where he died.

In the six-year search for justice for her son, Hillary Martin religiously attended court proceedings. She never missed any session, culminating in the June 28 verdict.

While the court findings were being read, dozens of police brutality victims and survivors felt their hopes of getting justice being revived.

The judgment directed that the officers who last had contact with Alexander be prosecuted for murder.

Senior principal magistrate Richard Odenyo said officers Naftali Chege, John Pamba, Charles Munyiri and Ismael Barasa should be held as prime suspects for his death. The officers were charged on May 19, 2012, and pleaded not guilty to murdering Alexander.

Odenyo said the police tried to cover up the truth but their testimony contradicted their written statements. He said the police tried to paint Alexander as an addict who must have died of drug overdose.

A report on test results contradicted that theory. Alexander’s blood tested negative for cocaine, but his urine allegedly contained cocaine.

The magistrate however said this was downplayed by two pathologists, who confirmed that Alexander died from head injuries caused by a blunt object.

KILLED AND DUMPED

He said this had been proven by numerous witnesses, who testified that Alexander was in good health when he was arrested and locked up.

“Whether the deceased was a drug user or not, whether he was a criminal or not, he had a right to life, and no one should have taken it away,” Odenyo said. He determined that Alexander’s life was cut short by unlawful acts while in police custody.

Rose Syombua’s son’s life was cut short by the police while he was attending a night wedding. Syombua keenly followed every step of the inquest into Alexander’s death.

On the evening of August 12, 2016, when Syombua allowed her son Tony Matano, 16, to attend a wedding at their neighbour’s home, she did not know it was the last time she would see him alive.

Matano had requested permission to attend the wedding for a few hours as the schools had just closed. Syombua allowed him to go as he was with his younger brother and other youths.

At 11pm the younger son returned home alone. When asked about his elder brother, he said some people had stormed the wedding and dispersed the attendees.

He told her that Matano had fallen down at Uwanja wa Mbuzi while they were running away from the police. “I thought it was just normal and he would eventually come back. But hours later, he was not home,” Syombua said.

Her instinct drove her out to search for her son, but the news she received from neighbours dampened her spirits and made her wonder whether she would find him alive. She went back home when she couldn’t find him.

Syombua said they went to Nyali police station to check whether her son had been arrested during the swoop. However, the police officers sent her away, saying Matano was not among the detainees.

“I went to the wedding venue and people there said the police shot him from close range after he fell down,” she said.

After visiting Nyali and Kisauni police stations, Syombua went to the Coast General Hospital mortuary, where her son’s body had been brought in by the Nyali police officers at 3am.

The tag indicated the body was picked by the roadside in Kwale county.

They went back to Nyali police station, where an officer tried to dissuade her from pursuing the matter further. She has made many trips to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, (IPOA) but the watchdog has failed to give her any help.

SURVIVED A BULLET

Khadija Swaleh believes the gods saved her son from the jaws of death. But even though her son Rajab Mohammed escaped extrajudicial killing, he was left with a bullet lodged in his body.

In 2016, Swaleh’s eight-year-old son left home for Kengeleni Primary School in Kongowea. On his way, Mohammed and his friends came across police oficers pursuing a robbery suspect.

“A bullet that was fired towards the suspect hit my son instead. He was shot in the left side of his chest,” Swaleh said.

The child, who has no knowledge of guns, went back home and told his mother that the police had stoned him.

“Moha said he was hit with a stone by the police but the way he was bleeding, I knew that was not just a normal stone,” Swaleh said.

Her fears were confirmed when she rushed him to a nearby clinic, which referred her to Coast General Hospital.

Mohammed stayed in hospital for two months. “He is not and will never be like the other children. He cannot play like the other children. He cannot work. It is so frustrating to me as a parent,” his mother said.

Her quest for justice has not been easy as, two years down the line, the officers who shot her son are yet to be prosecuted. Her visits to IPOA have been futile, as promises to look into the matter have never been fulfilled.

“We have gained nothing from reporting to IPOA. Will my son ever get justice for what the police did to him?” Swaleh said.

“With Monson’s inquest recommending the prosecution of four officers, one day, it will be our turn to get justice.”

IPOA TOOTHLESS?

In the past five years, hundreds of cases of police brutality have been reported at the Coast, with Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa recording the most cases.

However, only one case has been successfully concluded. In 2016, two police officers, Issa Mzee and Veronica Gitahi, were sentenced to seven years in prison for the murder of Kwekwe Mwandaza.

The officers, charged in November 2015, were found guilty of manslaughter, killing the 14-year-old girl without intent. They were accused of jointly murdering Kwekwe on August 22, 2014, in Kinango, Kwale county.

In the last two years, rights group Haki Africa has recorded 200 cases of police brutality.

The organisation said the mystery surrounding the cases is yet to be resolved, as no one has been prosecuted.

Haki programme coordinator Francis Auma said most of the cases reported are deaths caused by the police, while the remaining are injuries caused by police officers.

He accused the “toothless” IPOA of failing the victims of police brutality. “How do you expect IPOA to act against police when majority of its commissioners are former police officers?” Auma said.

He said IPOA gives priority to death cases, as injuries caused by police are always covered up.

“Monson’s case was death but it took six years to have the police implicated. It might even take 10 years before the family gets justice, as the process is still ongoing,” Auma said.

He said unless the political class intervenes, victims will wait longer for justice. So far, the parliamentary committees on security have not addressed the matter.

According to IPOA, 9,000 cases involving the police were reported. However, only three were successfully prosecuted and sentences handed down.

Some notable cases of police brutality countrywide include the killing of six-month-old Samantha Pendo in Kisumu during post-election violence last year, and Geoffrey Mutinda, seven, who was shot dead in Mathare, Nairobi county, in November last year.

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