The High Court yesterday jailed four police officers after establishing that Mr. Alexander Monson who died after being arrested by police was “tortured” while in custody at Diani police station, Kwale County.
Sitting in Mombasa, November 15, 2021, Justice Erick Ogolla imprisoned the officers noting that they further failed to take immediate action and have him treated in order to save his life.
“What happened to Alexander is not a surprise to many Kenyans. Police cells have become death traps for inmates suspected by the police to have committed a crime. It is an indictment without the shadow of doubt of a Kenyan police cell,” he said.
Justice Ogolla went on: “The deceased was tortured for reasons unknown to the court. This torture took place outside the cell and the deceased tried to defend himself and that explains the bruises he sustained in his left arm.”
Mr. Monson also sustained injuries in his private parts.
In their defence, the officers had argued that Mr. Monson’s death, who they had arrested on suspicion of smoking cannabis sativa (bhang) was caused by drug overdose.
But Justice Ogolla punched holes in this argument.
He said: “This theory of drug overdose must be rejected. Those who tortured and caused the death of the deceased put the drugs into the pockets of the deceased after he had died.”
The case is a first; it is the earliest matter admitted for investigation by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority after it was formed through an Act of Parliament in 2012.
This inaugural investigation began on June 11, 2013, after the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) sent to IPOA, a duplicate inquiry file into the death which was compiled by then Criminal Investigations Department (CID).
CID is the predecessor of the current Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).
Mr. Monson was pronounced dead on May 19, 2012 at Palm Beach Hospital, hours after he was transferred there from Diani police station, where he had been detained overnight.
After conducting an independent investigation, IPOA in 2014 established criminal culpability in the demise of Mr Monson and recommended to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, that a public inquest be conducted to ascertain the persons responsible for the death.
Consequently, the Magistrate’s Court in Mombasa ruled on June 23, 2018 that four police officers be prosecuted and therefore, the ODPP instituted a murder trial at the High Court.
In yesterday’s judgement, Sergeant Naftali Chege was jailed for fifteen (15) years with five years suspended, Chief Inspector Charles Wangómbe Munyiri for twelve (12) years with six years suspended, Constable Ishmael Baraka Bulima for nine (9) years with five years suspended and Constable John Pamba for twelve (12) years with six years suspended
In meting out the sentences, Justice Ogolla cited international statutes, the Constitution and local laws on the right to life of all persons, including suspects held in police custody.
He further observed that officers were negligent in their duties.
“It was their duty to make sure he (Mr. Monson) got medical attention but they failed to take immediate action and it led to deterioration of his condition and ultimate death,” according to Justice Ogolla.
He added: “He (Mr. Monson) was brought to the station in good health…..The kind of injuries he suffered were not sustained while inside the cells, otherwise the cellmates would have noticed it. The only rational explanation is that at one point between 3 am and 5 am the deceased was removed from his cell by the police officers either for interrogation on issues of bail or other issues. This movement was not reported in the OB (Occurrence Book).”
He therefore concluded: “Circumstantial evidence shows the deceased was tortured outside the cells inside the enclosure of the police station and his torturers are people unknown to this court but well known to all the accused persons because they had legal custody of the deceased.”
“Regardless of who caused the injuries, the accused took no action including first aid…. The issue of drug overdose was brought out by the police either to cover for the murder or their negligence.”
Following the judgement IPOA Chairperson Anne Makori said: “IPOA was formed with the objective of holding police accountable to the public and ensure that police strive for professionalism and discipline. In executing this mandate, the Authority is entrusted with various functions, including investigations. An investigation that establishes criminal culpability proceeds to prosecution, like this case. This should send a message that no matter how long it takes, all criminal actions must be brought to book.”
Section 25 of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Act requires the Authority to investigate any death or serious injury including death or serious injury while in Police custody, which is the result of Police action or were caused by members of the Service while on duty.