Deadly force: Unlawful killings by police still prevalent in Kenya

On the evening of November 1, 2018, Alex Okusimba, alias DJ Oklion, 33, was picked up from Club Heaven in Umoja One estate in Nairobi, where he worked part-time as a DJ, by two men who identified themselves as policemen.

That would be his last day alive.

Mr Brian Magero, with whom he lived but who was in Tanzania at the time, breaks down when he sees CCTV footage of his brother’s last moments. The video clips, obtained by Nation Newsplex, show two men walk into a club and walk out after just 50 seconds trailing a man that Brian identifies as his brother.

“The woman who went after them and tried to find out if maybe the cops simply wanted a bribe was sent away,” he says.

He learnt from witnesses that his brother was shepherded into the darkness, to a lonely place far from the club and executed, with a lone female voice crying out, “Why are you killing him?’’

Alex Okusimba (left) and Dan Githinji, some of the victims of police killings in the past 12 months. Photos | Courtesy

Friends who were in the club at that time told him that not long after Alex was taken away, they heard the sound of gunshots but thought it was just one of the occasional encounters between crime suspects and the police.

But the lifeless body that lay by the road a few minutes later was his brother’s. He shared with Newsplex gory pictures from the scene, which he was given by friends who got there before a police vehicle collected the body.

Keep off

When he came back to the country and began to follow up on the post-mortem report from the Buru Buru police station so he could pursue justice, he was warned by an officer attached to the station to keep off the case if he wanted to live. He backed off but the pain has never left him, more so given that the quest for justice too was extinguished.

“My brother was a good man who had no time for crime. He was a barber during the day and worked at the club some days of the week. I have never understood why they killed him. Why couldn’t they take him to prison if he had committed a crime?’’ he told Newsplex.

DJ picked up from club and murdered by "cops"

Intimidation by suspect police officers has stood in the way of many people seeking justice, according to Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) chairperson Anne Makori.

Later, Brian heard rumours in the neighbourhood that his brother had got too close to a girlfriend of one of the officers, something that could have claimed his life.

The Buru Buru OCPD had not answered our queries regarding the incident by the time we went to press.

At least 189 people were killed by the police in the last 12 months, with a significant number of the cases clearly pointing to misuse of a firearm, shows an analysis of data from Deadly Force, a Newsplex database that tracks police killings as reported in the media.

‘The data we have for Mombasa shows that the killings have actually gone up. We should be concerned that the media is not reporting as much because this can mean that extrajudicial killings have been normalised in the country,’’ says HAKI Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid.

This at a time when the operations of IPOA continue to be derailed by resource challenges and non-cooperation by the National Police Service. The watchdog has had more work on their hands this year as the number of complaints of police killings they received in the fiscal year 2018/2019 grew by more than half to 119 from 78 in the previous financial year. Although this may portray runaway police killings, IPOA says that it can also be partly due to increased awareness on where to report these killings.

Since its inception in 2012, the authority has investigated 67 cases involving killings by police, of which 60 officers were charged with murder. Six officers have been convicted.

Figures from Deadly Force indicate that victims included officers gunned down by colleagues, innocent bystanders shot dead by mistake out of an officer’s carelessness, and suspected gangsters allegedly killed while in action or hunted down and eliminated.

In July this year, at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, police constable Stephen Mkangi was allegedly fatally shot by his colleague Samson Morongo, whose motive was not known. He then falsely reported that they had been attacked by unknown men. He even had a bullet wound which police believed was self-inflicted.

Stephen was one of the six officers shot dead by fellow cops between October last year and September this year. Known motives of cop-on-cop lethal fire involved work-related disagreements and disputes about lovers. The number of such deaths tripled from two last years.

The police also displayed carelessness with the handling of firearms, as was seen with the shooting of two-year-old Dan Githinji in Kahawa West estate in Nairobi last month under unclear circumstances at a chang'aa den when police had allegedly gone to demand a routine Sh50 bribe.

Three quarters of the victims (144) were allegedly killed in crime under circumstances which, in most cases, the police described as prompted by an exchange of fire with the police. However, Deadly Force data shows that 12 victims the police said were suspected criminals were unarmed at the time they were shot dead. One, Henry Muchangi, died in a police cell in Embu shortly after being arrested. For some 16 others, it wasn’t clear whether they were armed or not.

But human rights defenders have in the past claimed that some officers are trigger-happy, often shooting dead suspects, even ones that pose little threat, then planting guns on them.

The National Police Service Act provides for officers to use firearms only when less extreme means are inadequate and only for saving or protecting life, in self-defence or in defence of another person against imminent threat of life or serious injury, protection of life and property through justifiable use of force, preventing a person charged with a felony from escaping lawful custody and preventing a person who attempts to rescue or rescues a person charged with a felony from escaping lawful custody.

Arrested and executed

People on the police most-wanted list were hunted down, arrested, taken away and executed, even where there was no evidence of resistance, in order to deal with the menace once and for all. Such was the fate that befell Evans Odhiambo, 25, who was found dead a day after the police picked him up from the Mathare North Hospital bed where he had gone to seek treatment for a bullet wound.

While such an unlawful approach has been hailed by some Kenyans in certain urban areas as an efficient way of addressing crime, HAKI Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid warns that whenever suspected criminals are killed, the public should not cheer the police on but always ask the question, “Why didn’t they arrest them?”

And the danger of not speaking out for suspects has been seen clearly whenever such actions transcend crime and police officers begin to indiscriminately pick their victims from the community at large.

Normalised killings

The 189 killings captured by Deadly Force in the last 12 months was a 23 percent drop from the 247 reported in the previous period. However, Mr Khalid warns that this does not mean that the police have done better. ‘‘The data we have for Mombasa shows that the killings have actually gone up. We should be concerned that the media is not reporting as much because this can mean that extrajudicial killings have been normalised in the country,’’ he says.

Twenty-five counties had at least one case of police killing reported in the media and Nairobi County, with 103 victims, retained its top position and share of killings (54 percent). However, Lamu had the highest rate of killings at five per every 100,000 people, followed by Nairobi (2) and Tana River, Mombasa, Taita-Taveta, Trans Nzoia and Nyeri with one each.

The police killed an average of 16 people every month, the three deadliest months being October last year (34), September (22) and January (19). June had the lowest number of killings (six).

The average age of people killed was 28, up from 26 in the previous period. Six women (three percent) were among those who died.

The police have also been accused of offences other than killing. Since inception, IPOA had received, as of June 30, a total of 13,618 complaints, including about deaths, assault, injury and bribery. Of these, 7,638 were taken up, 3,650 referred to other more suited institutions for specialised attention and resolution and 2,330 closed for various reasons such as withdrawal of complaints by complainants, resolution, complaints not being actionable and insufficient information provided by complainants. Currently, the authority has 2,003 complaints under active investigation, with a further 1,622 pending the beginning of investigations.

Deadly Force monitors local media, social media, and human rights and IPOA reports to track the demographics of each person killed by the police and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. Specific details recorded for each case include age, name and occupation of the deceased and whether the person was armed. Explore the database at: