22 deaths in 10 days: Are the police killing suspects?

Relatives and family friends of the three children who were shot dead at a close range by police officers at Utange village in Bamburi break into tears at the Coast General Hospital where they had gone to view the bodies in September, 2018. Two of the boys were hawking second hand clothes while the other one had been sent by her mother to the shop. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]
It was almost daybreak when they came. The rain had reduced to a drizzle and matatus on the roads were hooting in search of early risers.

Evans Oduor and Bernard Otieno were suddenly startled from their sleep by loud knocks on the door of their tin shack in Mathare North.

The previous evening, Family Choice Supermarket, a stone’s throw away, had been robbed in a dramatic fashion by three young men. Two of the men wore masks. The third, who didn’t have a mask, ferried the loot in a black carrier bag.

Residents rushing home to beat the menacing clouds attempted to stop the thieves but were quickly dispersed by a staccato of gun shots.

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The police responded. In the ensuing melee, Evans Odhiambo, a 25-year-old mechanic who was returning home was shot by a stray bullet.

His wife Evelyne Atieno claims police officers followed them to Mathare North Hospital where they had rushed him to and picked him.

“They took away our phones and bundled him in the boot of a Toyota Probox and left,” she says.

The mechanic’s body was found at the City Mortuary the next day (Saturday last week) with seven gunshot wounds in the head and chest. In the record entry made at the mortuary, the police said they had picked “an unidentified man with gunshot wounds in Mathare at 5am after being tipped by the public.”

This is exactly the same time Oduor, 24, and Otieno, 19, were woken up from their house, taken to a nearby street, made to lie down and shot multiple times in their heads.

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John Njuguna, who was at the nearby bus stage when this happened, was also arrested, made to lie down and shot.

Elvis Muriuki who works near the eatery where ‘Obingi’, as Otieno was popularly known, was employed as waitstaff insists his two friends were not criminals. Oduor was a barber on the same street.

“If they were criminals, I would have known. They were not,” he says.

While it is debatable as to whether the three young men felled by government bullets this week in Mathare were indeed criminals, it is the controversial circumstances in which they were killed and a string of similar police shootings that continue to raise fear in Nairobi’s informal settlements.

Scores of youths say they have been by trigger happy police officers who hunt and shoot those suspected of crime on sight forced to relocate. Human rights activists place the number of those killed in the last 10 days at 22. The Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) said it is investigating these deaths and 243 others which took place in the first nine months of the year.

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“The issue of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances still remains a challenge, identification of witnesses and having witnesses to freely testify is a challenge,” IPOA head of complaints department Diana Watila recently said.

Police misconduct

“Majority of the complaints received and handled revolved around acts that do not befit a police officer and thus constitute police misconduct,” she said.

The number of those dropping dead per day in Nairobi mirrors the first quarter of last year at the height of a campaign to eliminate the Gaza gang. “If you are a parent, the moment you hear gunshots, your heart almost stops because there is a chance it is your son who has been shot,” says Kennedy Chindi, a social coordinator at Mathare Social Justice.

Severely weakened and with most of their leaders shot dead, Gaza, which at the height of its popularity ran amok in Eastlands, Nairobi has all but died.

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But as with all life-cycles of criminal entities, once a gang is weakened by the State, other upcoming gangsters try to fill that gap.

The result has been an upsurge in crime in the informal settlements after a lull of about eight months.

The upsurge has been met with equal force by the police. Out-manoeuvred by the gangs, which also tend to have the same “shoot-even-when-unnecessary” policy, the police have resorted to brutal force.

Two weeks ago, one of the police officers responding to a robbery in Kayole was shot in the head by armed robbers who stole his firearm.

“Our officers managed to shoot dead one of the criminals who were robbing people on that day at the B3 area, but sadly the police officer who was shot in the head during the exchange died last week,” says Kayole OCPD Joseph Gachangi.

The day after the exchange between the police and gangsters, General Service Unit (GSU) officers were brought in to search for the missing gun. The operation they launched was so big, so brutal and so expansive it is still being talked about from Kayole to Dandora and Korogocho.

“The gun was stolen in Kayole, what has that to do with Dandora?” asks James Alama of the Dandora Community Justice Centre.

Lorry loads of GSU personnel combed through all the estates surrounding Kayole and most of the men who were unlucky to be caught in sight were rounded up and forced to say where the missing gun is. In the end, the search for the missing gun yielded nothing but pain for those who found themselves on the path of State machinery. Caught in between are the residents of these areas who are now under constant threat from both the criminals and the police. Sammy Musili was to sit his KCSE exams starting tomorrow. Last weekend, had climbed on top of a tree to see what was going on after hearing gunshots outside their house at the Gitwamba area of Dandora Phase 5.

Police were on a manhunt of two gangsters who had stolen a motorcycle and reportedly raped a woman in the neighbouring Kasarani. One of the suspects had already been shot dead while the other climbed on top a roof in a bid to escape.

By chance the roof caved in. The police took the gangster and three occupants who were in the house and frog marched them to an open field where they were executed. They then chanced on Musili, a Dandora Secondary School student, on top of the tree and ordered him down.

“I had ignored the gunshots until a neighbour came running to me saying Sammy had been shot,” says Festus Mwendwa, his father.

Photos posted online show the slain student clutching at a petrol station filling nozzle. Residents however say the gadget was planted on the student by the female police officer who shot him to give an impression that he was using it to scare those he intended to rob that he was carrying a gun. The said police officer who killed the student is attached to the Kinyago Police Station.

This uncertainty has affected almost all aspects of life in the low income areas, with their micro economies almost coming to a standstill whenever night falls.

“It is almost impossible for a night to end without gunshots. Their frequency increases on weekends and during school holidays,” says Elizabeth Mugo, who runs a shop in Mowlem, located on the border between Kayole and Dandora.

“Everyone here lives in constant fear and no one wants to be seen when darkness falls. I have seen customers getting arrested as they wait for their sukuma wiki to be chopped,” she says.

So common is the rounding up of young men by the police in the area that an Administration Police vehicle registration number GK 077A has been nicknamed ‘Uber.’

“To get out of the vehicle, it will cost you a minimum of Sh500. During the weekends, it becomes Sh1,000,” says a resident of Dandora who has been arrested several times.

“On those days those arrested will be so many that if you get space in a cell at Kinyago police station, you are considered to be a VIP because everyone else negotiates for their freedom from outside,” says the resident.

Fake identities

And as the war between the police and youth heats up on the ground, it is even hotter on social media where police officers are using psychological tactics. They use fake identities in running a Facebook page known as ‘Nairobi Crime Free’ and have been profiling those suspected of crime and posting their photos with warnings. Interestingly, and a good number of those whose photos are posted on the page have ended up dead and their bloodied bodies posted for the world to see.

Sunday Standard has confirmed from reliable sources that one of the administrators of the dreaded group who goes online by the name ‘Omorisia Chakobo’ is a corporal while ‘Hessy wa Dandora’ is an Administration Police officer from Dandora Phase 3 AP camp.

Matogoro is also an administrator for a police Whatsapp group known as Digital Kenyan Cops whose membership is drawn from junior police officers from across the country.

Underneath these threats on the popular Facebook page, Sunday Standard has learnt of an elaborate extortion game where some of those posted as criminals are forced to part with money for their pictures to be deleted.

“I have met some of the officers forcing people to pose for photos and then they end up online,” said one resident of Kayole.  

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Police KillingsExtra-judicial killingsIndependent Police Oversight AuthorityIPOAKenya Police