When a medical student was hacked to death in Eldoret last month, many people were appalled so see a police officer handle the murder weapons — an axe and a knife — with his bare hands.
Not long ago, a woman whose daughter had been raped cried in a Makadara court as she narrated how the bedsheets that were collected as exhibit’s from the suspect’s house were being used as curtains at the Soweto Police Station.
The woman, whose identity we have concealed to protect her daughter, stood before then Makadara Senior Resident Magistrate Evelyn Nyongesa and recalled that when she visited the Soweto Police Station, she found that one of the exhibits, a bed sheet, was being used as a curtain.
“I visited the station recently and was shocked so see one of the exhibits was hanging on the window. That could be the reason why investigating officers are unable to bring the exhibit to this court,” she had complained during the hearing of the case in which, Mr Simon Ngugi Thuo was accused of defiling her daughter on July 11, 2010.
Three years after the incident that prompted the magistrate to issue a warrant of arrest against the police officers who were handling the case, another police officer attached to an Eldoret Police station is on the spot after pictures of him handling a blood-splattered axe, allegedly used to hack to death a medical student, went viral on social media.
Several other cases and complaints have been highlighted and reported and criminal cases are won and lost right from the crime scene. Poor management of scenes of crime by investigators, the public and witnesses has seen many prosecutors lose what appeared to be straightforward cases.
On Friday May, 2, a court in Naivasha freed Administration Police Officer Eric Musila, who was charged with killing his wife, musician Diana Chelele, for lack of evidence and what the judge termed as “poor investigations”.
And just two days earlier, the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr George Kinoti, interdicted two police officers working under the directorate over a “cover-up” in lawyer Assa Nyakundi’s case, in which he was charged with manslaughter after he shot his son dead.
Mr Kinoti ordered an inquiry into how the case — in which Mr Nyakundi is accused of killing his last-born son, Mr Joseph Bogonko, on March 17 this year in mysterious circumstances — was bungled.
“There is manipulation involved and that is why I have interdicted the two officers. They must face charges for conspiring to defeat justice,” Mr Kinoti said in the case that has revealed how rogue detectives intentionally bungle cases by providing sloppy evidence that sees suspects freed.
In his book, Crime Scene Investigation, investigative expert Kirk Paul says, “Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as silent evidence against him.
Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibres from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects — all these and more bear mute witness against him.
“This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong; it cannot perjure itself; it cannot be wholly absent.”
Dr Paul goes on to say that only the interpretation of evidence can be erroneous. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it can diminish its value.
The investigations into the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani were hampered partially by the fact that police failed to secure the container in which the deceased was allegedly detained before he was killed. Irate members of the public set the temporary cell on fire before crime scene investigators could process the scene.
Criminologist Kiyo Ng’ang’a says the there is a standard procedure for crime scene management that all police offers should be taught during training. The first response team at any crime scene, if not from a specialised investigations team, should secure the scene by sealing off the area as they wait for the investigators. They should all secure potential key witnesses by holding them aside.
“On arrival at the scene, the investigators should document it without interfering with the set-up through notes and photographs.
“Crimes scenes have been left to everybody, evidence mishandled, and key witnesses left to go without being questioned to give crucial information,” Mr Ng’anga says.
The criminologist says evidence should be collected when one is wearing gloves and should be secured in airtight bags to avoid contamination.
Section 116 of the Penal Code criminalises the destruction of evidence that might be required in a judicial proceeding.
“Any person who conspires with any other person to accuse any person falsely of any crime or to do anything to obstruct, prevent, pervert or defeat the course of justice, or in order to obstruct the due course of justice, dissuades, hinders or prevents any person lawfully bound to appear and give evidence as a witness from so appearing and giving evidence, or endeavours to do so …. is liable to imprisonment for five years” the law states.
A police officer attached to the DCI, who requested anonymity because he is unauthorised to speak to the media, said the DCI is well equipped, but the officers lack goodwill, specialisation and training.
“Any officer runs to the crime scene. Most of them handle the scene haphazardly. They do not bother to secure the scene. They do not identify potential witnesses,” he said, adding that in some cases, officers personal interests determine how they handle a crime scene.
He said the DCI has a well-equipped forensic laboratory that can process evidence and facilitate successful prosecution.
Unprofessional handling of exhibits and shoddy processing of the crime scene can put the lives of a police officers at risk. UN’s s Office on Drugs and Crime notes that not all hazards are immediately obvious.
“Potential hazards may arise from a number of sources; chemicals, biological materials like blood and body fluids, unexploded explosives, firearms, environmental factors, unsafe structures, and an insecure environment,” it says.