When Kevin Gitau’s mother was warned by a police officer in January 2019 that she will bury her son if they did not relocate from Mathare, she did not know that this threat will be a reality three months later.
Gitau, 25, was a marked man. His mother had to seek refuge at the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) after repeated threats by a well-known “crime buster” in the area.
The lad, who sold fruits in the neighbourhood to eke a living, was among six young men gunned down on April 15 and April 16, 2019.
The two-day killing orgy was linked to Ahmed Rashid, an officer attached to Pangani Police Station.
Rashid is arguably one of the most feared officers in Mathare. His name sends shivers down the spine of many families.
Many are his victims, while others remember him as the officer who was caught on camera shooting at two unarmed men in Eastleigh in 2017.
The video that went viral on social media shows a plainclothes police officer shooting at the two as a shocked crowd watch on. The officer pumped bullets into the young boy, then got another gun from his colleague and continued and sprayed an additional four bullets on the helpless man who was already on the ground.
Multiple witnesses confirmed seeing Rashid at the two killing scenes in Mathare last week.
Those who saw the shooting at OilLibya Petrol station said Gitau was shot on the head several times while handcuffed.
“He cried and pleaded for his life,” said a witness.
A witness recounted how Rashid arrested Gitau, frogmarched him all the way to the petrol station at around 9 pm and made him kneel down before pumping several bullets into his head and chest. The post-mortem witnessed by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority showed six bullets were used to kill Gitau.
“In less than two minutes, his life was cut short in such a cruel manner,” the witness said of the April 15 incident that has renewed fear in the ghetto.
A close neighbour told Missing Voices that Gitau, who operated a fruit business near the witness shop, lived his last days a worried man.
The family said Rashid had warned Gitau in February that he would be killed if he did not pay Sh100,000 to a lady that he allegedly stole an iPhone from.
These claims were echoed by JJ, a human rights activist and defender at MSJC and Juliet Wanjira, one of the founders of the centre. The two have been following the case since the alleged phone theft in January. Gitau had denied the alleged theft.
According to JJ, Gitau’s mother informed them that Rashid had demanded the cash, which the family could not raise owing to their poverty.
“As mobilizing KSh100,000 in two days was virtually impossible, MSJC resorted to an online campaign to push for Gitau to be booked at the police station, ahead of a court appearance or be released forthwith,” JJ said.
JJ added that “With the history of the callous impunity with which Rashid operates, we knew he meant what he said to this poor woman.”
“We had to push to have the top police bosses intervene and save the young man’s life,” JJ told Missing Voices.
Gitau was eventually produced in court following the heightened social media pressure on the National Police Service and Directorate of Criminal Investigations. He was however released unconditionally on the ground that the complaint against him was formally booked after 24 hours of his arrest, being in contravention of the constitutional 24-hour rule that requires an accused person to be presented before a court of law within 24 hours of their arrest.
To date, it is not clear why Gitau was neither booked in the police station nor taken to court promptly as required by the law, but Wanjira believes Rashid ‘marked’ Gitau for the bullet since the January incident.
“I feel so pained that Gitau’s mother has lost her eldest son to Rashid, yet I was the one she first ran to for protection,” a distraught Wanjira adds.
“Every person accused of a crime should have their guilt or innocence determined by a fair and effective legal process. But the right to a fair trial is not just about protecting suspects and defendants. It also makes societies safer and stronger. Without fair trials, trust in justice and in government collapses,” said Irũngũ Houghton, Amnesty International Kenya’s Executive Director.
It is not only Gitau’s killing that worries the human rights fraternity. A day after Gitau was killed, the cop struck yet again, gunning down 15-year-old Ben Kamindo – a boiled eggs vendor. Kamindo, who was well known in the neighbourhood as Ben Ben, was shot dead at 6 am on April 16. The same day five other youths were felled by police bullets in Mlango Kubwa.
The firstborn of Susan Njeri – a single mother of three, Ben Ben plunged into the ruthless street life, adapting to its dictates, including sniffing gum.
Neighbours say the lad quit street life three years ago and had opened a legitimate business selling boiled eggs.
“He got rehabilitated by some missionaries who offered to take him to school but he declined. He chose to be facilitated to start a business,” his mother said.
According to a neighbour, at dawn on the fateful Tuesday, police officers violently broke the wooden door to Kamindo’s house, woke him up before bringing him out with his face covered in a Maasai shuka.
“Ben pleaded with him [Rashid] and even asked to be taken to jail if he had committed any crime,” the witness said.
“It was Rashid who did it. He is well-known here,” a teenager, who witnessed Ben’s shooting and would prefer to remain anonymous, told Missing Voices.
The teenager says he is equally living in fear of being killed.
“I am in Rashid’s watch list. I do not know if I will live to see tomorrow. Everywhere I go, I watch my back,” he said.
His sad story mirrors that of Aston Werunga. Werunga told Missing Voices that he quit crime four years ago for a garbage collection business, but he cannot walk freely in the streets.
“I do genuine business, but my life is not guaranteed. I am afraid he [Rashid] may hit me anytime or arrest me,” Werunga says. “No young man here can dare wear ‘blings’ – chains, or new clothes without being called a thief,” he adds angrily.
The executions at Mlango Kubwa were acknowledged by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) after complaints were lodged by the families. IPOA said they have commenced “a thorough, independent and exhaustive probe.”
The same day, the DCI, confirmed killings of two other youths at Mlango Kubwa. In a tweet, DCI said officers on patrol responded to screams for help from three victims of a robbery.
“The gang refused to surrender. Two were fatally injured, while one escaped. A revolver, loaded with three rounds of ammunition and a Somali sword was recovered,” the DCI tweeted on April 16. The tweet did not have proof of the alleged weapons recovered.
The killings add to the growing number of police killings in the country. At least 14 cases were documented in January and February of 2019 by Missing Voices website. The numbers have significantly increased in the month of March and April.
In the last two months, over 40 cases have been documented in the country – a chilling realization that rogue officers are still hell-bent on committing unlawful executions.
The latest cases water down a spirited effort by the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji and DCI George Kinoti to confront the unjustified slum killings.
At a Community Dialogue in Kayole in February 2019, DPP Haji and DCI Kinoti vowed to follow up claims of extrajudicial killings by shadowy crime busters among them Hessy.
The two condemned the actions of Hessy after they were given bloody pictures by Justice Centres Working Group Coordinator Wilfred Olal retrieved from Facebook pages run by Hessy, who takes pride in killing and posting images on social media.
Hessy attacks MSCJ and Dandora Community Justice Centre
The shadowy Hessy Facebook groups continued to threaten Justice Centres for what the admins of the groups say is defending thugs.