By Lawrence Williams
At least six officers and the local unit commander at the Panlap Police Division have been suspended and put on administrative inquiry following the death of a 17-month-old baby who died in their custody whilst her mother was being detained for the payment of USD75 worth of medicines allegedly stolen in a handbag from a bus passenger.
This issue has brought heavy criticisms to bear on the Sierra Leone Police, prompting the Independent Police Complaint Board (IPCB) to also open an investigation into the conduct of the officers involved.
Rights activists and groups took to social media lambasting the police for treating the infant like a criminal and called for an impartial investigation into the matter. They are of the view that the child would have been alive today if the police had not taken her away.
Police spokesman Brima Kamara said the woman admitted to stealing the handbag and her husband Mohamed Kanu signed on to pay for the medicines. Kanu told us her wife confided in him that she didn’t steal the said bag. He said they were under duress to pay for the medicines or risk going to jail.
“All this time my baby was hale and hearty; She died the day they put her behind bars.”
Kanu said her wife was already pregnant at the time she was re-arrested on Dec. 23 and the baby too was hale and hearty. He opined that the deleterious condition of the cell might have killed the baby.
“All this time my baby was hale and hearty. She died the day they put her behind bars,” Kanu cried.
The IPCB also affirms that the baby died in police custody.
Rights group AdvocAid says the action by the police offends both the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Standards for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders; including the Sierra Leone Bail Regulations of 2018. The organisation urges a speedy investigation of the matter, but the child’s father says the police are somewhat sluggish in responding to that call.
Kamara described the actions of the suspended officers as ‘a professional misconduct’. He assured the family that an autopsy will be done to ascertain the cause of the baby’s death.