DCI Twitter: Where suspects are charged, declared guilty online

A screenshot of some of DCI's posts on Twitter.

The Directorate of Criminal Intelligence (DCI) has increased its online visibility with regards to naming and shaming perceived lawbreakers on its social media handles.

Narrations and re-enactment of crimes on its Twitter and Facebook posts have created good banter among the online community. But sometimes, this has come at a steep price, especially when those named and shamed have nothing to do with the alleged crime.

On September 6, 2019, Kelvin Osero, in a bid to continue with his new year’s resolution to stay fit, drove to a popular mall along Thika Road, parked his Honda in one of the basement levels and proceeded for a two-hour workout.

After burning some calories, he took a quick shower and headed to the basement only to realise that his vehicle was not where he had left it. Someone had walked into the premises and driven off with his car which was then valued at Sh800,000.

Osero reported the theft at Kasarani Police Station and trusted the system to find his vehicle. A month later, a friend forwarded a screenshot from the DCI Twitter account.

The screenshot had someone holding up a placard that had his name and ID number on it. The tweet identified the bearer of his name and the holder of his ID number as a thief.

Unknown to him at the time, and to the investigators, Osero’s ID and many other personal documents also went missing the same day his car was stolen, and the thief — who was later identified as Evans Soita Khamala — was using Osero’s identity to lure other unsuspecting Kenyans into his schemes.

Osero may not be the first one to undergo such an experience and he may also not be the last one as DCI social media handles become a consistent source of titillating reads. 

The DCI last month marked eight years on Twitter with a following that has ballooned to over 1.1 million.

But lawyers now believe that there is a thin line between what the DCI is doing on its social media handles and an infringement on the laws of private citizens.

"While some of the content looks like general information to the public, a lot of it is shared prematurely and could easily qualify as defamatory,” Nairobi lawyer Okalle Makanda told The Standard.

“The tone, language and finality of some of the content tends to suggest a determination of the case before courts have even had an opportunity to hear it. It takes away the presumption of innocence.”

The DCI has justified its decision to sensationalise crime, often, with little care for fair comment or notification of next of kin on involvement of their subjects in crime.

Increasingly, the tweets have been seen as a means to influence perceptions of Kenya’s security agencies among the eyes of the public.

Sometimes though, the intent falls far off the mark.

Towards the end of May, the DCI, through its social media handles published and circulated the image of a man allegedly caught on CCTV camera wanted for the cold-blooded murder of another middle-aged man.

The CCTV footage recorded what looked like a well-planned ambush and assassination, clearly capturing the killer as he pulled the trigger.

After the video of the killing went viral, the DCI, again through its social handles took to the online streets pinpointing the murdered man’s criminal activities, his accomplices and his areas of operation within Nairobi.

Upon his death, and with little data or proof to back the argument up, the DCI alleged that the murdered man, Samuel Muvota, was the mastermind of a gang of women and men responsible for hundreds of stupefying incidents that resulted in robberies.

Days after Muvota's murder, the DCI released the image of Denis Karani Gachoki, a man whom they said was wanted for questioning over the assassination. There were however a few things that looked off. There was little resemblance between the man whose photo was circulated by the DCI Twitter account and the actual killer caught on camera.

But, DCI, again through its social media handles, insisted that the Karani was the man behind the murder.

“Detectives are looking for one Denis Karani Gachoki, the main suspect behind the daylight murder of Samuel Mugoh Muvota. The armed and dangerous man is suspected to be in possession of a firearm that was snatched from a stupefied police officer in Mombasa in November 2020,” the DCI tweeted.

In their thread, DCI said that Karani had fled to a neighbouring country after realising he was a wanted man.

At the time of the tweet, Karani was in Nakuru at his cereal business.

A day later, he presented himself at the DCI headquarters accompanied by his lawyer. He was subsequently arrested and held for 14 days only for him to be released after the prosecution admitted to having no evidence linking him to Muvota’s murder.

But the DCI still feels justified in its use of the online space.

“For a very long time in Kenya, police have been thought of as killers. See a policeman? You run. Nothing good could come of it,” he said. “If we want the public’s confidence, we have to show them we are not all like that — we do work for them,” DCI Director George Kinoti told the Washington Post in a previous interview.

Lawyer Makanda says the DCI needs to balance between the need for the public to know and the rights of a suspect or accused person.

Peers to the DCI such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Criminal Investigations Agency (CIA) have online presence but their messaging is less sensational.

For the men and women at Kiambu Road, this is the surest way to get to the hearts and minds of Kenyans.

The consequences though can be dire. There may be more Oseros who make it to the DCI’s timelines with little knowledge of the crimes they have been accused of.

The 1.1 million followers on Twitter and the 400,000 on Facebook looks a motivation enough for the crime busters to justify the means they use to endear themselves to their Kenyan audience.