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Lawyer defended the poor, fought police brutality

Friday July 8 2016

Lawyers protest in Nairobi on July 6, 2016 following the killing of their colleague, Willie Kimani. Perhaps because of his experience at Ipoa, Mr Kimani left a trail that detectives are partly relying on to track the killers. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Lawyers protest in Nairobi on July 6, 2016 following the killing of their colleague, Willie Kimani. Perhaps because of his experience at Ipoa, Mr Kimani left a trail that detectives are partly relying on to track the killers. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Willie Kimani, the lawyer abducted and killed after a court appearance, was no ordinary advocate, but a hardened fighter against police brutality and extrajudicial executions.

His family and colleagues in the human rights movement believe that because of the nature of his work — which involved looking into the integrity of some of the most senior police officers in the country, as well as working with victims of a criminal justice system that has been known to fight back with killer vengeance — their son and friend was always a marked man living on borrowed time.

Mr Kimani, his client Josphat Mwenda, and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri were found dead in Ol Donyo Sabuk a week ago, nine days after they were abducted while leaving a court house in Mavoko, Machakos County.

Corporal Stephen Cheburet Morogo, Senior Sergeant Fredrick Leliman, Leonard Maina Mwangi and Constable Silvia Wanjiku are in custody awaiting trial over the deaths.

On Thursday, Athi River Deputy division commander Lazarus Tarus said the four suspects were not remanded in his station and that they were never taken back after court appearance, but were remanded in a prison within Nairobi.

“I can confirm the four, immediately they were taken to a Nairobi Law court were never brought back to the station. In fact they are in a highly-guarded prison within Nairobi,” Mr Tarus told the Daily Nation over the phone.

He was responding to reports within the police force that three of the suspects had escaped.

The Daily Nation tracked down one of the suspects to Muthaiga Police Stations though the stations where the others are being held remained a mystery.

Activists, who have since Monday this week been picketing over the murders are pointing accusing fingers at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), alleging that detectives investigating the matter could also have tortured the victims.

Mr Kimani was, at the time of his death, pursuing claims by Mr Mwenda that he had been shot by an Administration Police sergeant based in Mlolongo during an arrest bid.

But his family believes the motive for murder extends beyond Mlolongo to the high-profile corruption and extrajudicial cases against police officers that the lawyer had handled.

He had raised questions and provided information to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) and other agencies, against top detectives within the DCI and the Flying Squad, said sources.

However, a senior Ipoa official was sceptical that Mr Kimani was killed in connection with any of the cases he handled at the authority.

“He was a thorn in the flesh of the police, especially senior officers who had either been involved in extrajudicial killings or their subsequent cover-ups,” said the source, whom the Daily Nation is not naming because of the sensitivity of the matter.

He was among the first investigators to be employed by Ipoa after the civilian oversight body was established in 2012, and was involved in setting pace for future investigations, according to his former colleagues.

Mr Kimani’s key tasks at Ipoa included providing legal guidance during field investigations, maintaining and updating legal information in client files, and advising complainants.

His other assignments were to accompany torture victims to police stations to lodge formal complaints, record statements, and follow up their cases.

However, his former colleagues there, unlike his relatives and peers in the legal field, do not think he was killed because of his past work in Ipoa, going by the structures and procedures put in place for investigators handling cases there.

An official explained that at any one time, every case file is usually handled by at least three investigators and a supervisor.

This is standard operating procedure to make sure no single investigator is entirely in control of a particular case, and that cases are neither meddled with nor influenced.

Still, the Nation established that Ipoa has received numerous complaints of people who have been killed, especially where police are key suspects.

While there are active murder cases against police officers, a number of them have gone cold, because no evidence has been gathered to sustain prosecution.

Besides working with Ipoa as senior investigator, Mr Kimani worked with the Independent Medico-Legal Unit and Release Political Prisoners trusts, which are also human rights institutions, which handle many cases of police excesses.

“At any given time,” said International Justice Mission’s Sanjay Sojwal, “(we are) handling several cases. Since some of these cases are ongoing I can’t go into details, but most of the clients we assist are victims of police abuse.”

Perhaps because of his experience at Ipoa, Mr Kimani left a trail that detectives are partly relying on to track the killers.

He scribbled a message on a tiny piece of paper that he may have dropped at Athi River Administration Police camp where the three were probably held before being killed.

A number scribbled on the tissue paper is his wife’s mobile telephone line. The note said they were in danger.

Handwriting experts at the DCI compared the note with the lawyer’s previous writings and certified that the handwritings belong to the same person.

The ongoing Ipoa investigation is also looking into a series of charges filed against Mr Kimani’s client following last year’s shooting.

Officers at the camp charged him with being in possession of narcotic drugs, gambling in a public place, and resisting arrest.

Other charges were riding a motorcycle without a helmet, riding a motorcycle without a reflective jacket, carrying excess passengers, carrying un-insured passengers, riding un-insured motorcycle, and riding a motorcycle without a licence.

Mr Kimani also investigated and compiled a report against a senior police officer in Athi River who is a friend of a suspect in the murders.

“The investigators found strong evidence against the senior police officer during his stint at a different police station, and forwarded it to Ipoa,” said the source.

Over the years, he is said to have developed a close working relationship with senior officers within the criminal investigations directorate.

He was among the officers who responded to an attack on the home of former minister for Internal Security, Mr John Michuki, on October 30, 2006 at the height of the Mungiki crackdown.

The raid on Mr Michuki’s home created a rift between the minister’s office and Vigilance House after the then Commissioner of Police, Major-General Hussein Ali, initially denied reports of shooting at the minister’s home.

According to senior police officers, the case of the Mavoko Three would by now have been swept under the carpet were it not for the personal intervention of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Joseph Boinnet.

“We received information about the disappearance in good time but not much was done to find the missing persons,” said a senior detective, pointing to concerns that there might have been a deliberate attempt to let the trail run cold.

The National Police Service’s most secretive organ, the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU), is now at the centre of the investigation. At the unit, everything begins in a mystery and ends in intrigue.

The operational framework is so secretive that not even colleagues get to know each other’s reports.