A court in Kenya has convicted and jailed a police officer for seven years for the brutal killing of an innocent man. The conviction of the officer serves as a significant milestone in the fight against police brutality and the abuse of power. It reaffirms that no one is above the law, including those entrusted with its enforcement. The verdict offers solace and a sense of closure to the family, who have endured immeasurable pain and grief.
On February 22, 2015, a police officer found Kanyi at a local bar and demanded that Kanyi buy him a beer. When Kanyi declined to fulfill the officer's request, a physical altercation ensued between the two men.
Two weeks later on March 7, 2015, the officer involved in the scuffle, the perpetrator and two other officers broke the door to his house at about 3:00 am and ordered him to come out and face them. The officers alleged that they had gone to effect Kanyi’s arrest, but instead killed him, claiming self-defence. However, evidence on record shows that as Kanyi came out with his hands up in the air, he was shot twice in the chest. The officers left the home and returned later with a sniff dog but left again after they failed to trace him. Kanyi’s body was found in a coffee plantation the following morning.
This act of injustice was not overlooked by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), the civilian body mandated by law to investigate deaths and serious injuries caused by police action. IPOA established that the perpetrator had, in a bid to cover up the crime, planted false evidence. The perpetrator and his colleagues alleged that Kanyi had attacked the perpetrator with a panga (machete).
When IJM Kenya learnt of the injustice meted out to Kanyi, a team of dedicated lawyers began working alongside the prosecution to get justice for the family. IJM counsellors offered counselling services to the family, among them his elderly parents and his young wife, who was left with two young toddlers in her care.
In his judgement, the trial judge agreed with IJM submissions that the conduct of storming Kanyi’s home without a warrant of arrest and doing so late at night for a crime allegedly committed two weeks earlier, was “uncalled for”. The judge also agreed that the claims by the officer that Kanyi was armed were a lie, adding that the officer ought to have preserved life, not taken it.
"There was no urgency on the matter to necessitate them to go and effect an arrest at midnight for a simple case of assault. I find the circumstances of this case such that the force used was excessive and uncalled for,” the judge said. The prosecution had sought murder charges against the perpetrator in the trial that began in 2015. However, the judge also added that when the four officers left their station, they did not book the incident in the occurrence book; they intended to effect arrest but not to kill; there was no criminal intent. As such, the judge, in his judgment on November 30, 2023, reduced it to the lesser charge of manslaughter, finding that the prosecution failed to prove that Kanyi’s killing was pre-meditated.
The court ruled that the perpetrator used excessive force and went against police standing orders. IJM lawyer Edward Mbanya, representing the victim’s family, had argued in court that the officer – with training on how to use firearms – acted unlawfully and contravened his police training, the Service Standing Orders, and the National Police Service Act.
The verdict brings some relief and hope for justice to the family of the late 33-year-old Kingori Kanyi, who have pursued the court case for eight long years. This win cements the importance of police accountability in creating deterrence and protection for many Kenyans living in poverty.