Kenya: Family Seeking Justice for Man Who Was Shot Dead By Policeman

26 November 2020

What started as a minor dispute between Julius Karanja and his wife Wanjiku on November 2, 2014 ended with his killing by a police officer.

The incident happened at Ngaburi village in Murang'a County and it ended with the police officer, Constable Hillary Nyatodo, shooting Mr Karanja in the head at around 7:30pm, killing him instantly.

Mr Karanja and his wife, Wanjiku, had been married for only one year and had been blessed with a seven-month old baby boy.

According to Kigumo Sub County Police boss Michael Ndegwa, Mr Karanja was drunk on the fateful day and he kept issuing threats to his family members.

"He was a commercial poultry breeder and he loved his drink, but sometimes he did it excessively. He had accused his wife of having an affair with a police officer attached to nearby Muthithi police station," said Mr Ndegwa.

The police boss revealed that on the fateful day, Wanjiku called Constable Nyatodo, who rushed to the couple's compound together with another officer. The policemen were both armed with assault rifles.

Love affair

"The officers were armed because they had been informed that Mr Karanja was brandishing a machete and was in the process of slashing his son. When they arrived, they met Mr Karanja, who was aged 40 by then, excessively drunk outside his house. In unclear circumstances, one of the officer shot Mr Karanja in the head, killing him instantly," Mr Ndegwa said.

Coincidentally, the officer who shot Mr Karanja is the same person the deceased had accused of having an affair with his wife.

What followed was a seesaw battle in the corridors of justice where some forces made every attempt to stop the case from proceeding.

"The issue raised a lot of heat. There were public protests in this area that threatened to turn ugly because villagers were demanding accountability regarding the policeman's use of excessive force in the incident. I have since been reliably informed that there were attempts to shield the officer from prosecution," Mr Ndegwa told the Nation.

Constable Nyatodo was transferred to Mandera County shortly afterwards but further attempts to protect him from being prosecuted failed as the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) intervened and had him arrested three months later.

He was however given a free bond and was free to resume his duties.

The deceased's eldest brother, Mr Mburu Ng'ang'a, told the Nation that Mr Karanja's death brought even more misfortune to the family.

"Our father died of depression a week later, and our mother suffered a stroke immediately after viewing her dead son's body. She died in 2019. Due to the trauma from the shooting incident, our younger brother, John Kimuhu, lost his mind and died in November 2020.

"We have been waiting for justice but we are almost giving up. We have no information regarding the progress of investigations, or even whether the officer was charged in court," Mr Ng'ang'a told Nation at their home.

He claimed that in 2017, he received a call from an unknown person requesting him to accept a Sh10, 000 gift to convince the family members to stop pushing for investigations into his brother's killing.

When the Nation tried to make a follow up on the case, IPOA chairperson Anne Makori said that investigations were actually completed.

Still roaming free

"We probed the matter successfully and made recommendations to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to press murder charges against the officer," she said.

Ms Makori added that the DPP concurred with this suggestion and the matter was registered at the Murang'a High Court where IPOA had prepared 15 prosecution witnesses.

"We are waiting for a hearing date to be confirmed," she said.

Even so, Mr Karanja's family strongly feels that they are being denied justice.

"We want this case to be dispensed with so that we can move on with our lives. We feel that the judiciary is treating the life of my brother very casually," Mr Ng'ang'a lamented.

Our visit to the Murang'a Law Court registry bore no fruits, thereby corroborating Mr Ndegwa's belief that someone is deliberately delaying the case, or that the file has mysteriously disappeared.

A source at the registry said, "You are asking about a high profile case and you might never get to see it, except maybe by sheer luck."

Mr Ndegwa said the officer's case was unique in that "while the law demands that once charged in a court of law a suspect is supposed to be interdicted and wait for vilification or vindication, the constable was still roaming free."

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