'Pangani Six' killer police crew linked to youths' wrongful deaths

Pangani Police Station. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Pangani Police Station has recently been in the limelight over links to extrajudicial killings of crime suspects.

In a report released last month, the station was listed as leading in killings by police officers.

Out of the 187 cases of police killings last year alone, officers from the station are said to have killed 30 young men, according to Missing Voices, a lobby group against extrajudicial killings.

“In 2021, every month, with the exception of June, officers from Pangani were accused of murder,” the report said, adding that all the “killer cops” implicated continue operating in the same communities of Mathare, Mlango Kubwa and Eastleigh.

The indictment is faulted by Starehe Sub-County Police Commander Julius Kiragu who accused Missing Voices of coming up with a skewed report to cast the police in a bad light.

Mr Kiragu said those killed were armed and dangerous criminals, adding that no matter what human rights activists say, officers will continue doing their work of maintaining peace and order.

“I went through the report and regretted why there was no effort to establish circumstances under which the shootings occurred. We are trying to trivialise a serious matter involving the lives of our officers who frequently encounter armed and dangerous criminals,” he said.

Even though the police commander defended the officers, human rights activists and residents accuse them of carrying out systematic killings of young men. They point a finger at a group of officers known as the Pangani Six who carry out the killings.

Some of the victims were identified as Peter Irungu, Robert Muriithi, Brian Mang’alu, Kelvin Gitau, popular homeless man Collins and a form four student identified only as Ramadhan.

The Standard was unable to get more names of those allegedly killed by police since relatives and friends are unwilling to talk, citing safety reasons.

“As long as the Pangani Six are still around, I would rather not talk about the incident,” said a woman whose son was shot last year by police in an alleged botched robbery in Mathare.

Ms Benna Buluma, the convener of Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, says several families in the slums are mourning in silence following the death of their sons killed by the six officers.

“As much as we appeal to our children to stay away from crime, not all youth with dreadlocks are criminals. We are worried that as we head to the elections the killings will increase,” Ms Buluma said.

She found herself in the human rights campaign after she lost her sons Victor and Bernard in 2017 following a crackdown on election protests in Mathare.

Ms Buluma has been leading the crusade for justice for the men killed by police.

The biggest obstacle remains the collapse of cases due to the unavailability of witnesses. In some instances, inquest files are opened but the case slows down.

“For these investigations to progress or cases to succeed witnesses must be guaranteed protection. Most of them don’t testify for fear of being hunted down by police officers who threaten them.”

She said a witness was once forced to flee from Nairobi while another vanished. 

Ms Buluma is calling on police commanders at Pangani Police Station to restrain their juniors from executing young male suspects. 

She said attempts to talk to police chiefs at the station have been met with hostility. Ms Buluma is appealing to the government to withdraw the silent ‘shoot-to-kill-on-sight’ order.

But Mr Kiragu said the police are open to dialogue on the condition that the communities admit there are few criminal elements among them. 

“By pretending that there is no crime in Mathare we shall be missing the point. Not all young men in Mathare are involved in crime, in fact, 90 per cent of them are law-abiding; it is all a small clique that is giving us problems,” he said.

Recounting an incident last year in which a woman was stabbed by a gang, Mr Kiragu said as much as his officers exercise restraint, the criminals are armed and ready to fight when challenged.

Another similar incident, according to the commander, was when a man was shot dead while jogging along General Mathenge Road. “We will not sit and watch as young men engage in crime.” 

On Christmas Day, 2019, Peter Irungu and Brian Mang’alu, both aged 18, were shot by the police, according to witness accounts disputed by then Nairobi police commander Philip Ndolo. He said the two had robbed two people and were shot when they attempted to engage the officers in a fire exchange.

Collins, the popular homeless man, was arrested in April last year and bundled into a Probox. His body which had gunshot wounds was later found at City Mortuary.

Ramadhan, a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidate, was tortured to death. His body was found three weeks at the morgue after he was arrested by people believed to be police officers.

At the time of his arrest, the 17-year-old was at her mother’s kiosk in Eastleigh. A police officer allegedly pounced on him and dragged him away. 

“The boy was never involved in crime. He was a law-abiding child helping his mother to fend for their family,” Ms Buluma said.

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