Police brutality cited in Kisumu deaths

Tuesday October 30 2012

PHOTO | TOM OTIENO Rioting members of the public near a bonfire as they attempted to storm the Kondele police station after political aspirant Shem Onyango was shot in his car.
PHOTO | TOM OTIENO Rioting members of the public near a bonfire as they attempted to storm the Kondele police station after political aspirant Shem Onyango was shot in his car.
3 killed as riots rock Kisumu city
By BRIAN YONGA and JUSTUS WANGA [email protected]

The killing of a Kisumu politician brought pain and grief to many, but witnesses blame police for wilfully causing three additional deaths.

At the time, police had lobbed tear gas to disperse the crowds that were protesting the killing of Shem Onyango “Kwega”.

ODM secretary-general Anyang' Nyong’o claimed police used excessive force during the riots but Nyanza provincial police officer Joseph Ole Tito immediately denied the accusation.

Ms Maureen Eshiamba, Mr Chrispin Ochieng and Mr Fredrick Onyango were burnt to death as they sought refuge in a container next to Nyanza General Hospital.

Questions raised

Questions are now being raised as to why police lobbed teargas at peaceful and unarmed people who only tried and get out of harm’s way.

Worse still, there are claims that in an act of sadism, police locked the door of the container from outside, denying the occupants exit.

On Tuesday, the PPO said he regretted the deaths of the three in the container, but added that preliminary investigations established that an electric fault could have started the fire.

He said they were investigating the allegations that a police officer might have locked the door of the container from outside.

But according to Benson Odhiambo Ogolla, who said he was also in the container when it caught fire but managed to escape, a police officer locked the door from outside and lobbed more teargas inside.

“Due to the protests, we had decided to close early. As we were putting the furniture inside the container, a truck full of officers stopped by the road and a contingent alighted. Next, tear gas exploded as people fled in different directions,” said the 28-year-old Ogolla.

He and two of his colleagues, Ochieng and Onyango, sought refuge inside the container. Ms Eshiamba and a schoolgirl later joined them.

Soon afterwards, the container caught fire after more teargas canisters were lobbed inside.

“My colleagues let out screams as we begged the police to open the door to save our lives,” he added. The whole place was burning. My back soon caught fire as I tried to force the door to open.

Good Samaritans finally opened the door and as Benson fled outside, they doused the fire on his back and took him to the nearby Nyanza hospital.

The schoolgirl was also rescued and taken to hospital. But his colleagues, Ms Eshiamba, Ochieng and Onyango were burnt to death and their bodies taken to the hospital mortuary.

“I am lucky I made it out alive, but I’m sad for my colleagues. They did not have to die like this. I pleaded with the officer to let us out, but he did not listen,” recalled a tearful Benson.

Mr Ole Tito, the police chief, however said they had been pushed to the wall and they were not going to be observers as protesters matched to the armoury.

“We acted with a lot of restraint. If we did not act like we did, then so many guns would been in the wrong hands as we speak,” he said.

According to him, they were not going to negotiate with rioters who were pelting stones at the police.

“Kondele OCS had his eye hit by a stone, so the accusation of excessive use of force is not justified. Windows at the station were smashed,” he added.

He asked politicians to refrain from making inflammatory statements that will make the work of police difficult.

“We acted within confines of law and we would urge the political class to let us do our work without any prejudice.”