Police commanders indicted on command responsibility for baby's killing

Joseph Abanja and Lancer Achieng, the parents of the late baby Samantha Pendo at Kisumu court during the final verdict in the inquest on February 14th 2018. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

A judicial inquiry has recommended the prosecution of five police commanders found culpable for the death of a six-month-old baby during a security operation to crush protests.

The attack on Baby Samantha Pendo in her family's house reportedly by security forces pursuing protesters became the face of police brutality at the height of post-election violence in Kisumu in 2017.

Yesterday, Kisumu Resident Magistrate Beryl Omollo, who presided over an inquest, found the five senior officers who commanded the police deployed to crush protests culpable for the infant's death and asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action against them.

The officers who have been implicated in the murder are former County Commander Titus Yoma, AP Commandant Joseph Koima, former OCPD Mutune Maweu, former Kisumu Central OCS John Thiringi and Inspector of Police Linah Kogey.

Some 46 junior officers – 30 GSU officers and 16 regular police officers – could also land in trouble after the court declared them persons of interest in the Kisumu violence and ordered the DPP to investigate their conduct during a massive operation that left the lakeside town bleeding.

Baby Pendo died from internal injuries after she was allegedly hit on the head by officers who had broken into the house while in pursuit of residents protesting against the outcome of the presidential election.

Pendo’s parents said justice had finally been served for their daughter.

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Unwarranted violence

In a 38-page ruling, the magistrate noted that officers failed to demonstrate their professionalism and meted out unwarranted violence to protesters.

The magistrate told a packed courtroom that the commanders had a responsibility to know whether their officers were involved in illegal operations.

“That day, a fine flower was plucked out of the safety of their house and violently nipped in the bud by one of the baton-wielding police officers,” said Ms Omollo.

Witnesses who testified, including Pendo’s parents, faulted the officers over the death.

Lencer Achieng, Pendo's mother, narrated to the court how she begged the officers to leave them alone after a teargas canister had forced the family of four to come out of their single room.

She said the officers beat her and her husband with batons and one of them hit the baby.

And in her ruling, the magistrate said the baby did not die of natural causes and blamed the police officers for her death.

She noted that there was enough evidence to prove that Pendo’s death was a premeditated murder because of the actions of the police.

The weapons that were used, including a teargas canister and batons recovered from the scene, the court heard, were weapons that only trained officers had access to.

Omollo noted that there were no reports that indicated that there were civilian groups that carried ammunition and injured citizens.

“In the instant case, the evidence tendered before this court overwhelmingly points to the members of the security agencies being responsible for the death,” she said.

The court also ruled that the evidence that was presented by the prosecution also indicated that the weapons that the officers used did not have serial numbers.

The 30 General Service Unit officers implicated in Pendo’s death were reportedly deployed at Kachok, a few metres from where the baby was assaulted.

Offer reinforcement

Evidence presented by the prosecution indicated that two of the GSU officers failed to return their batons to the stores.

“The GSU officers were deployed to suppress the protests as well as offer reinforcement to other officers,” said the magistrate.

The top commanders who were among the 31 witnesses that the prosecution lined up gave conflicting information about the events of the night the infant died.

They all sought to absolve themselves of blame.

The magistrate, however, criticised the investigating officer for failing to uncover the identity of the police officer who hurled teargas into the house of Pendo’s parents.

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Judicial inquiryBaby Samantha PendoBeryl OmolloKisumu Resident MagistrateOCPD Mutune Maweuohn ThiringiLinah KogeyLencer AchiengPolice commanders