After nearly two years, police watchdog and the prosecution are still silent over the gruesome, in-custody murder of a civilian, Caleb Espino.
Victim was aged 40.
There are no hints the prosecution will soon prefer murder charges against at least two brutes, bullish cops associated with Espino’s death.
And there is no comment from police oversight body – the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) – about its probe status.
IPOA, which suffers a horrible conviction record and terrible approval rating, callously publicizes progress of its investigations into in-custody deaths and violence, at least to whip up waning public support and regain dipping confidence.
But Espino’s murder is a studious silence for the police watchdog whose Board came into office on June 2012 at a backdrop of heightened police brutalities, many that occurred rapidly after the infamous 2007 post-poll violence.
No signs cops implicated in Espino’s murder are interdicted – or will be punished.
It is a long search for justice by Espino’s family and MUHURI who documented the murder, facilitated a postmortem, bulldozed to force authorities to release a death certificate after declining to numerous requests, and pushed for arraignment.
Now – more than ever – anxiety and frustrations are raging over the murder that shone a spotlight on the safety of prisoners in police custody.
How cops murdered Espino
Police apprehended Espino and his friend on September 2018 during a swoop on drinking dens in Changwamwe slum dwellings, Mombasa. They booked the duo at Changamwe police station after failing to secure Sh10,000 bribe from them.
Espino died that night when police charged and pounced on him with wooded clubs, punches, and kicks. At some point, police put Espino in a tight chokehold.
Police handcuffed Espino from behind during the attack, preventing him from finding his footing when they violently pushed him, crushing his skull on a metal box at the cell corridor. Espino laid motionless. An autopsy would reveal he succumbed at this point.
Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital (CGTRH) where police rushed Espino, marked the victim as “dead on arrival”.
Witnesses disclosed to MUHURI that Espino, while at the cell, demanded to know grounds for his arrest. Police ignored or responded rudely, without providing specifics. Espino shook the cell’s grill in return, infuriating an officer who was on the reporting desk.
The cop called for reinforcement and pulled Espino to the corridor. Brutalities started, ending in a lost life.
Espino’s death outraged a community long hardened to police brutality. His family, and touts who worked with him for almost a decade, staged widespread protests.
Authorities vowed quick action and police reform, and then … nothing.
IPOA withholds incriminating exhibits
Official and witnesses’ accounts are increasingly and disturbingly suggesting police custody are transforming into deathbeds, disproportionately affecting many poor Kenyans.
Police confines are torture chambers where horrid cruelties occur. No longer are suspects safe. Police are now brutalizing or eliminating at will, sometimes firing deadly assault rifles at close range, lodging bullet fragments and murdering in cold blood. Police attack unarmed civilians with hand grenades.
Rarely are Kenyan police officers convicted for their crimes.
IPOA has all incriminating exhibits to put Esipno’s murderers behind bars – for good. The following morning after Espino died, IPOA recorded witnesses’ statement, so did MUHURI. IPOA listed cops who were on duty on that fateful night and documented their accounts, including of those who assaulted Espino.
The police watchdog also participated in Espino’s autopsy on October 16, 2018, at CGTRH. MUHURI chairman Khelef Khalifa and Officer Frederick Okado represented the organization and the victim’s family.
I reported on The Star newspaper the gory details of the five-hour, excruciating operation by four pathologists, who included Kenya’s principal coroner, Johansen Oduor – all whom police had threatened against showing up or operating the corpse.
Autopsy confirms gruesome homicide
A preliminary postmortem study, which was later backed by a detailed toxicology examination, confirmed the case was a homicide. IPOA took a copy of the report.
The autopsy revealed Espino died of multiple injuries on the head, upper cervical spine of the neck and chest. There was a fracture due to blunt force trauma, bleeding within the brain, and injury on the upper spinal cord.
Pathologists saw bleeding into both sides of the lungs and the back. A rib on Espino’s left chest had a fracture. There was also a tear within one of his lungs.
With witnesses’ accounts, just like the autopsy findings settling the cause of death as a homicide, IPOA was from the onset well equipped to press murder charges. But it has dragged its feet, almost two years – and counting.
MUHURI has since – in as many months – written to IPOA to furnish it with details of Espino’s case for a possible private prosecution.
Espino was a husband and father of four until his murder. The family’s patient is running out.
“We want to know those who murdered our member, watch them arraigned, charged, and convicted. Only then, will the family find peace,” Geoffrey Okuyosi, told MUHURI. Okuyosi is Espino’s uncle.
On February 23, 2020, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, said Espino’s murder offered a ground for her to raise it internationally. The detective wanted the Kenyan government to allow more probe and prosecution. The State has not moved an inch.
Will IPOA deliver justice; how soon?
June 2020 marks IPOA’s eight years since its inaugural Board took office. But its performance is a crushing blow. IPOA is struggling to fulfil its remit to hold the police to account.
The Authority has secured convictions of police officers for committing crimes in less than 10 cases, despite having received more than 10,000 complaints. Protests are surging now due to Covid-19 restrictions — including a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew — which have emboldened police to kill at least 15 unarmed civilians and tortured hundreds.
Then IPOA chairman, Macharia Njeru in 2018 blamed court’s glacial pace for failures to convict police who commit crimes.
“The delays in the conclusion of cases in court, that is a major problem, but that is outside our control,” he said.
IPOA’s ineptness is fueling anger beyond Espino’s family.
Will the police watchdog and other authorities deliver justice to Espino’s family; and how soon?