In a remarkable step towards ending extrajudicial executions and police brutality, a Kenyan court on May 27, 2021, sent two police officers to prison.
Constables William Chirchir and Godfrey Kirui were sentenced to serve seven years imprisonment each after they were found guilty of killing 41-year-old Janet Wangui Waiyaki in 2018.
Waiyaki’s nephew Benard Chege, 29, sustained two gunshot injuries during the incident that happened at around 10 am at City Park in Parklands area, Nairobi.
“We were seated in the car; chewing ‘miraa’ when six men approached us. I would have opened the window, but when I saw one draw his gun, I tried to drive off, but it was too late,” Chege told the court during the hearing.
On Saturday, May 19, a day before the shooting, Chege said he received a call from Janet at around 3 pm. She, apparently, called to request him to pick her up so they could hang out since her car had broken down.
“I proceeded to pick Janet and we went to Pangani. We bought some ‘miraa’ and parked the vehicle near Pangani shopping centre from around 7 pm till about 5 am the next day. Janet requested that I take her back to her place because she was supposed to release her house girl,” narrated Chege.
Chege said they, however, agreed to change course after a friend asked them to accompany him to Naivasha, offering to fuel their car.
“We went to viewpoint area and watched the sunrise, took pictures and ‘selfies’ and started our journey back at around 6 am,” he continued.
He said Janet was reluctant to go back home, as she wanted to finish up her miraa, prompting their decision to move to City Park. That is where Janet met her death. He narrowly escaped death.
“The last person I called was my cousin Ann Kahiu. I asked her to come quickly to the City Park area,” he said.
Ann said she met Chege at the emergency room at Avenue Hospital. He had two bullet wounds; one on the hand and the other at the back.
His mother Faith Wangeci said she was leaving the church at 11 am when she received news of the shooting.
The police officer in their defence told Justice Stella Mutuku that a call was made concerning a suspicious vehicle parked within the park and he was among individuals found at the scene.
The officers said when they approached the car, the driver started off. They said they did not aim to shoot them but to stop the car.
“My lady, if we could turn back time, a lot of things would be done differently,” they told Justice Mutuku through their lawyer.
On May 11, Mutuku convicted the officers, ruling that the force used was not proportional.
While convicting them on manslaughter, the judge said the intention was not to kill the woman, as the officers were reacting to a terrorism alert in the area.
“This brings me to the conclusion the offence proved by the evidence before me is that of manslaughter and not murder by absence of the element of malice aforethought,” she ruled.
Justice Jessie Lesiit who read the sentence on behalf of Mutuku said given the circumstances of the case, the non-custodial sentence is not appropriate.
She noted that they were first offenders but declined to give them a non-custodial sentence saying it is not appropriate.
“A life has been lost, nothing can be done to bring back life. Accused persons failed to follow the law on the use of force”, the Judge ruled.
“The law dictates that a police officer shall always attempt to use nonviolent means first and force may only be employed when nonviolent means are ineffective,” Internationational Justice Mission lawyer who represented the victims said. “The Judge categorically stated that such force must also be proportional to the objective intended to be achieved.”
The mere fact a person flees from arrest or attempts to escape from custody does not justify the use of a firearm unless there is a grave threat to the life. The court did observe that the deceased and the driver posed no danger and were fleeing away from the police officers.
Cases of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, and police brutality have been on the rise in Kenya with only a few of the cases getting prosecuted.