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Will the puzzle of Kawangware taxi drivers’ killing ever be solved?

Six of seven police officers linked to killing of taxi men pleaded guilty but argued they indiscriminately shot at victims in self-defence following a fierce night fire exchange. The High Court sentenced them to hang but an appellate Bench later acquitted them citing state of lawlessness in the city estate that had previously claimed lives of several officers on duty

On March 11, 2010, residents of Kawangware in Nairobi woke up to a rude shock when they found seven lifeless bodies at a busy petrol station. The dead were taxdrivers who operated at the Shell/BP petrol station on Naivasha Road.

The previous night, the taximen had been involved in a fierce battle with motorcycle (boda boda) operators over control of commuter transport business in the area. Caught up in the melee were Administration Police (AP) officers attached to the nearby chief’s camp.

There would be sporadic gunfire that lasted past midnight. Senior police officers who visited the scene in the morning found bodies scattered on the road. Beside the bodies were two machetes, a wooden toy pistol and broken motorcycle helmets.

Following investigations, it emerged the APs who had gone to quell the chaos had taken sides and indiscriminately killed the taxi operators who were unarmed. The APs were arrested and charged before High Court judge Fred Ochieng. Prosecution was conducted by the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Jacinta Nyamosi who called in 28 witnesses.

Justice Ochieng acquitted one of the seven APs, citing lack of incriminating evidence. The rest pleaded guilty but argued they had acted in self-defence. In a lengthy judgment delivered on December 18, 2012, Justice Ochieng’ found the six APs guilty of murder and sentenced them to hang.

Justice Ochieng’ concluded the taximen were unarmed and harmless at the time they were shot at. “I can only conclude that the story about the alleged superior fire power on the part of the victims is nothing more than a figment in the imagination of the accused persons.

It was a story calculated to justify the use of the firearms which the accused persons had. I find the indiscriminate shooting by the accused persons to constitute a reckless use of firearms.”

The six challenged their conviction and death sentence on the grounds that they had acted in self-defence while facing mortal danger. But the prosecution insisted they had fired live bullets at unarmed people with the intention to kill.

Defence lawyers Kioko Kilukumi and John Khaminwa said the policemen had merely responded to an alarm raised by the motorcycle operators after some of them were attacked by taxi colleagues. When the policemen identified themselves and shot in the air twice to disperse the crowd and save one of the men who was then pleading for his life, the crowd kept advancing and firing at the police officers.

Court of Appeal judges Erastus Githinji, Daniel Musinga and Jamila Mohamed, who handled the appeal, observed that it was not clear whether the policemen shot at innocent people or acted in fear for their lives.

“None of the prosecution witnesses was able to tell the trial court what had exactly happened,” they said. “Although it is only a toy pistol that was recovered at the scene, is it possible that apart from taxi drivers there were some other people who were armed with other guns and who escaped after the police returned fire, they remarked in their judgment delivered on June 27, last year.

The appellate judges said there was evidence there were many guns in the hands of unauthorised people in the Kawangware neighbourhood and the shoot-out occurred at night when there was no good visibility.

“In these recent days when so many police officers are being killed in the line of duty by armed criminals, the appellants, not knowing that there had been physical confrontation between the taxi operators and motorcycle operators, could have reasonably believed that their lives were in danger and decided to open fire,” they said.

“The appellants had not been dispatched to Kawangware to quell a reported commotion between two feuding groups of people. They had, therefore, not been issued with plastic bullets which are ordinarily used against rioters. They had been issued with guns and live bullets.

They were on patrol duties at night, in an area that is famous for criminal notoriety,” justices Githinji, Musinga and Mohamed said. “We think, in the circumstances, the appellants reasonably believed that their lives were in danger or of serious bodily injury.

A number of police stations have even been raided by criminals, police officers killed and arms stolen. There are also reported cases of armed police officers being attacked by criminal gangs and robbed of their loaded guns,” they said as they acquitted the officers. The questions that beg answers are; were the killings justified or did criminals take advantage of the situation to attack the police officers? Any new information on the case can be shared on [email protected]

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