Residents of Ithanga village in Gatanga Sub-County, Murang'a, are living a nightmare. Officers at the Ithanga Police Station are alleged to have gone rogue, accused of running a clandestine business.
The business, locals say, involves fabricating charges against residents and proceeding to demand large amounts of money as cash bail. Once the money is deposited, the officers withdraw it for their own use.
Bail is deposited with authorities as security to guarantee that the suspects will appear in court on an indicated date.
"But in our cases, police do not submit the charge sheets to the court and do not reimburse the cash bail to the suspects as demanded by procedure, and that defines the big business that is known even by senior police officers," said James Ngui Mbiti, coordinator of the Ithanga Residents Association.
The worst-hit are residents of Kakuzi/Mitubiri Ward, an area that includes a stretch of the Chania River where illegal chang'aa distillers thrive.
"The people usually targeted are those that police say are distillers, a war that has been manipulated to include those profiled to be wealthy, who are arrested, issued cash bail and eventually forced to surrender the money to the police station so as not to be charged," Mr Mbiti said.
One case is that of Peter Muega Kimani, who was arrested at midnight on February 4 this year.
"The police accompanied by administration officers raided my home... I woke up and opened my door. They told me they were after my son, who they said was an illegal distiller on River Chania. I showed them his house," Mr Kimani told the Nation.
But the officers said they had already broken into his house and he was not there.
Dragged into darkness
"They dragged me into the darkness, handcuffed me and bundled me into a police vehicle, where I found a polythene bag and some jerrycans containing some liquids. To my utter shock, I was told that it was the exhibit -- bhang and chang'aa -- that they had seized from my house!" he narrated.
Mr Kimani was delivered to the Ithanga Police Station by morning.
He was told since the exhibits belonged to his son, who had not been arrested, should he be good enough and deposit Sh50,000 cash bail, he would be released as they sought his son.
"I paid up the cash as surety for my son and was issued with a receipt that did not even indicate the Occurrence Book (OB) number that contained my case," he said.
"It was indicated that I show up at the Kandara Law Courts on February 8, but I was informed that it was only routine, that I needed not show up as indicated since I was only a suspect on behalf of my son."
Since that day, Mr Kimani had been living peacefully, holding on to his cash bail receipt but with no court dates... until the news media got wind of the racket and contacted him.
Irregular cash collections
As is normal procedure, armed with evidence of irregular collections of cash bail and where no charges were brought, we reached out to police leaders in Gatanga sub-county for comment -- and that is when hell broke loose.
"I was on Wednesday hunted down by six police officers, harassed and threatened for daring to speak to the media and I was ordered to show up at the Kandara Law Courts on Friday June 6, 2021 to answer to charges of possession of bhang and chang'aa - on behalf of my son. I blame the media for stirring the waters where there was peace... " he lamented.
Gatanga police boss Peter Muchemi told the Nation that the stories coming from the area were disturbing.
"But I also blame the victims for not taking the initiative of lodging complaints about the alleged racket. In all public forums, I usually give out my number so that all those who feel they have not been served well by my juniors can reach out to me," he said.
At a recent security meeting at the Gakoigo Show Grounds, Central Region Commissioner Wilfred Nyagwanga issued a stern warning against "all officers who think they can transform their stations into illegal tax collection centres".
Mr Nyagwanga said "we are on the lookout for corrupt officers in our stations whose work is not to enforce the law but to run corruption networks to benefit themselves".
Gatanga Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss John Kanda Wednesday said the issues raised are under investigation.
"I was not aware. It is coming to my attention for the first time. It is okay. I will investigate," he told the Nation.
Mr Kimani proceeded to the court as ordered and was released on a Sh100,000 bond and will now proceed with the case on behalf of his son!
He is a bitter man, who insists that he is a victim of an inquisitive media and the station seeking to cover up the case, as area residents recounted many similar incidents.
"You are aware of the recent incident where 10 security officers arrested two youths who were fishing on River Chania in Rubiru village, accused them of brewing chang'aa and proceeded to handcuff and drown them. One of them was my son," said Beth Mumbua.
The boys were Nicholas Maithya, 20, and Asman John Kamau, 18, whose bodies were retrieved from the river after a nine-day search.
DCI statements recorded so far incriminate two assistant chiefs in the killings of the two boys and in turn, the chiefs' statements indicate that they were not accompanied to the fateful patrol mission by Ithanga Police Station officers "because we feared they would leak information to the chang'aa brewers."
Even as the two families anxiously wait for justice, they fear that the Ithanga Police Station, where the initial report was made, "will not serve us any good in the background of the rot that it is and which has tens of witnesses".
Another victim is Peter Mwangi, who was arrested on February 19 and paid Sh100,000 cash bail.
Another is Steven Ngovi, who is holding on to a receipt for Sh100,000 cash bail with no investigative reports forwarded to the court, and the cash remains committed at the police station. When he was arrested, his motorcycle was impounded and he claims that he also had to part with Sh10,000 to secure its release.
"We are suffering in this village... It is as if our police station has vowed that we should never prosper. We work hard to get money and their spies are all over to identify anyone with cash and we are arrested, framed for felonies and cash is demanded from us," he said.
So daring are the officers that in 2018, they targeted the family of Samuel Mwangi.
"The officers came to my home and beat up my three children, then aged 18, 15 and 13. The officers said they had information that I brewed chang'aa and used my children to hawk it in the neighbourhood. They bit them up trying to squeeze a confession from them that indeed I was a criminal," he told the Nation.
It was the onset of a spirited fight by Mr Mwangi, who reported to the police station that his three children had been assaulted.
He was issued with OB number 05/16/05/2018 and was given an introductory letter to help the three children get medical checkups at Ngoliba Health Centre.
They were examined and the details recorded in a police P3 form by Dennis Thuo.
"When I filed the P3 form at the station, the OCS refused to address it even after I had been told to pay Sh3,000 as processing fee," he said.
The case is still listed as "pending under investigations (PUI)" even though the officers who participated in the alleged assault are well known to the victims.
Opt to remain silent
Mr Muchemi says the problem with many victims of police lethargy is that they opt to remain silent without lodging complaints with seniors.
"We have a hierarchy of command to address some of these claims. They can be addressed at the managerial level of the command chain. I encourage all aggrieved people to officially bring these claims to my attention," he said.
Last month, during a security visit at the Maragua Police Station, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Edward Mbugua said the national police headquarters was monitoring corruption at police stations.
We are serious about this... We cannot be singing this song over and over again that corruption remains a highly detested vice in our ranks... We are going to act very decisively on all cases that continue to taint our image that we are working so hard to reform," he said.