Delayed justice as trial of cops in Baby Pendo killing drags on

Family members and relatives and friends stand by the coffin bearing the remains of Baby Samantha Pendo during a mass at St Joseph Catholic church in Kisumu on August 25, 2017. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Baby Samantha Pendo would have been two months and five days’ shy to her seventh birthday today were it not for some police officers who brutally snuffed life out of her. 

On the night of August 12, 2017, in Nyalenda slum, Kisumu, Pendo’s mother Lencer Achieng and her husband Joseph Abanja were woken up by a commotion from their neighborhood.  

Before they could figure out what was happening, some police officers lobbed a teargas canister inside the house to smoke the mother, father and baby out. The door was locked from outside but Abanja pleaded with the officers to open it to enable them to come out. 

They clobbered Pendo’s father before turning to Achieng who was then holding the minor. A police officer hit the infant on the head. As a consequence of the blow, Baby Pendo developed a swelling on the head and she started foaming from her mouth. The mother pleaded with the officers to help her take the baby to the hospital. Instead, they instructed her to ‘do first aid and remove mucus from the mouth.’ 

After five days in a comma, Pendo passed on. 

To date, the puzzle of who killed the baby and with whose blessings is still a mirage. Two cases, one that the two parents were seeking compensation from the government is yet to be resolved.

At the same time, officers who were singled out by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) are still fighting not to face the law over murders and rapes that occurred during the police raids to quell post-election protests in 2017. 

Inspector Volker Edambo, Chief Inspector James Rono and Police Constable Josephat Boke Sinsera, Titus Mutune and Kisumu’s County Commander Titus Voma claim that they have been unfairly singled out as other bosses who were involved in the operation to quell poll violence, including the then Inspector General were let off the hook.

According to them, the Independent Policing and Oversight Authority, and the DPP were on a wild goose chase as at least 30 police officers who an inquest identified, have not been brought to book.

They also questioned why the DPP did not prefer charges against the then IG, the then Regional Commands -Chief Inspector John Thiringi, Kimeu King'aa who was then County AP Commander, Kisumu, and Geoffrey Kathurima, who was then the CCIO, Kisumu.The officers alleged that they were each implicated in the inquest ruling.

The DPP decided to have 11 police officers; Yoma, Mutune, Linah Kosgey, Benjamin Kipkokei, Benjamin Lorima, Edambo, Sinsera, Mohamed Ali Guyo, Mohammed Baa and James Rono as suspects.

In his reply, the DPP through Senior Assistant DPP Vincent Monda said that after thorough scrutiny of the evidence gathered, Yoma sanctioned the police brutality and killings. 

“Upon an independent review of the totality of the relevant factual material emanating from the investigations, the DPP established that the attacks were undertaken by and or under the authority of the 1st suspect and his co-suspects, being senior police officers, through excessive use of force against innocent unarmed civilian population in the said informal settlement as part of a systematic and widespread attack, thus the nature of the intended charges,” argued Monda. Yoma, however, claimed that the charges were being fueled by the civil society. 

In response to the claim of letting Thiringi, Kimeu and Kathurima off the hook, the DPP argued there was no evidence to show that the inquest court had directed him to charge them.  

International Justice Mission supported DPP’s argument. It argued the DPP had the powers to scrutinize the evidence and prosecute those he was convinced were culpable.