More than two years after Derek* felt the pain of a police officer’s metal rod across his body, the high-ranking officer who allegedly beat him was finally arrested for his crimes and will stand trial later this year.
“There is a change occurring in these extremely hard cases of holding police accountable,” says IJM Kenya Field Office Director Shawn Kohl. “We have hope that the result will be justice for the poor.”
Brutally Beaten in His Own Neighborhood
Derek, a young father working as a chicken seller, was allegedly harassed and beaten by police near his modest Nairobi home on New Year’s Eve 2011. They dragged Derek to a nearby police station, where he remembers one high-ranking officer beating him violently with a metal rod.
The attack left Derek with a broken leg and severe head trauma; he was hospitalized for two months. The officer allegedly tried to bribe and pressure Derek to keep quiet about the beating, but he refused.
Out of work and scared for his family, Derek brought his story to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), who referred him to International Justice Mission for help.
One Man’s Story in a Landscape of Fear
IJM has been protecting men and women in Nairobi from police brutality since 2001, and has built strong relationships with Kenyan government authorities including the Internal Affairs Unit, National Police Service Commission and others.
In 2012, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), with technical consultation from IJM, conducted a first-of-its-kind study of police performance and the public experience of police abuse that has gone largely unchecked for years.
IPOA’s study found that 0ne in three Kenyans surveyed had experienced police abuse—including assault, bribery, falsification of evidence and threat of imprisonment—within the previous 12 months. Fifty three percent (53%) of police officers surveyed had themselves witnessed police abuse in the year prior to the survey. But, historically, abusive officers in Kenya have rarely faced accountability for these crimes.
A Cross-Country Search for a Crucial Arrest
In spite of clear challenges to holding Derek’s abuser accountable, IJM took on Derek’s case and quickly learned how intimidating the high-ranking officer who allegedly attacked him really was: physically large and imposing, he often traveled with a posse of armed men to protect him. Community members believed he was behind many similar incidents and that he may have been supporting local criminals.
IJM worked with local authorities to relocate Derek’s family to a secure location and to build a case for court. The officer, however, fled Nairobi and managed to elude detection for nearly two years.
After an intense search, the Police, with IJM’s assistance, identified his location in a remote village nearly 500 kilometers away. They executed the arrest on August 27, 2014.
The abusive officer has been charged and now awaits trial for his alleged crimes. The trial is expected to begin in late 2014. IJM continues to support Derek as he prepares to share the truth in court.
“We are gaining traction in this case and many others in the pipeline,” says Kohl. “There is a long way to go, but these are hopeful times…particularly for those who have been abused by those entrusted to protect them.”