Uproar in Taveta after suspect died in police cell
Cops arrested Roman Mwacheda on September 15 on theft suspicion—but four hours later, his family found him dead in a police cell.
Mwacheda, 45, worked as a casual labourer at Kwamlenza farm in Taveta, Taita Taveta county.
On this fateful day, after Mwacheda reported to work, locals accused him of stealing a coconut. A mob attacked him.
Police arrested and took Mwacheda to the Eldoro Post and locked him in a cell where he passed on.
Juma Mwarimbo, Mwacheda’s relative, said he sustained injuries, and his condition did permit him to be in custody.
“He needed urgent medical attention,” Mwarimbo said.
According to Mwarimbo, police alleged that Mwacheda committed suicide by hanging, a claim the family disputes.
“Police told us he hanged himself with a t-shirt tied to a window,” Mwarimbo said.
However, Mwacheda was bare-chested when police took him, according to Mwarimbo. His shirt was torn apart during the mob attack.
The deceased’s family said they found a shirt tied in a window of the cell, but its thread was loose to sustain Mwacheda’s weight, suggesting he could not have used it to “commit suicide”.
“Also, there was no noose around his neck. Further, the window could not allow suspension because it was not overhead,” Mwarimbo, who viewed the body, said. The corpse leaned on the wall and was in a sitting position.
The family reported the death at Eldoro Police Post and got Occurent Book (OB) number 03/15/09/2022.
The Judiciary, in November 2021, came up with regulations for suspects’ safety while in police custody.
The guidelines are called “rules for safe police cells in Kenya”, or simply “Ogola Rules”, coined after High Court Judge Erick Ogolla.
The Alexander Monson case triggered the regulations. Monson was a British aristocrat discovered dead in a police cell in Diani, Kwale, in 2012.
Ogolla found four police officers— Naftali Chege, Charles Wangombe Munyiri, Baraka Buluma, and John Pamba—guilty of manslaughter.
The rules state that for all bailable offences a suspect must be given a police bond or bail as soon as possible.
Every suspect must be subjected to mental and health screening when booked into a police cell. The booking officer must immediately inform the OCS of any health issues a suspect may have. The OCS must instantly act to protect the suspect’s life and tell his family about his condition.
The OCS is expected to formulate a medical checklist to notify police of any underlying health conditions of a suspect.
“Police cells should meet all health requirements with particular attention to ventilation, lighting, minimum floor space, cubic air content, and climatic conditions,” Ogolla rules indicate.
Where the offence is bailable and depending on the particular circumstances, police must promptly release the suspect on bond or cash bail to seek treatment.
Once arrested, a suspect will be booked into the police cell immediately and a record made in the Occurrence Book.
The movement of suspects in and out of the cell must be recorded at all times in the OB. The cells must also not be overcrowded.
The booking officer must inform the suspect of his human rights and verbally assure him he will be treated with human respect and dignity.
The suspect must also be addressed in a language he understands.
Where more than one suspect is arrested in the cause of a single transaction, the release on bail must apply equally. It is to avoid suspects negotiating their releases with the police.
Ogolla rules also require that a suspect signs a record of his property before he enters the cell.
Additionally, food and drinking water must be supplied to a detainee throughout the day and whenever they need it.
Ogolla said police should undergo refresher training in human rights and dignity, and surveillance cameras installed within the police station, including cells.
Mwacheda family said police breached all Ogolla rules.
“They knew his health was failing but did not allow him to see a doctor or inform his family,” Mwarimbo said.
An autopsy is yet to be done, and according to the family, police demanded they pay a pathologist Sh30,000.
“We don’t have that money. We will have to fund raise,” Mwarimbo said.
Mwarimbo did not have a wife or kids. He is survived by three brothers.