Police Depot Justice

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THE MORNING WEATHER felt cold all around and many people in the community expected some showers since the September month had begun to rain cats and dogs. Nearby, the local police depot wedged at the corner, and behind the corporation hall where the community handled their perennial issues that affected them. The hall was also located in the office of a small detachment of officers of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. The day before, two women, one pregnant and younger and the other older and matured had visited the police depot, determined to make a report about a fight.

The young woman’s protruding stomach indicated that her pregnancy had reached an advanced stage but she looked very bored as the older women dragged her behind her. It was apparent that the young woman had lost interest in what they had planned to do but she had little choice and to the police station she had arrived. It was on Monday, September 5. “Don’t be silly,” the older woman told her when she realized her reluctance. “We need the police to teach her a lesson.” The woman was her mother-in-law and the one she had threatened to punish was another young woman who had had some misunderstanding with her, and felt she deserved to be punished.

As the women ambled their way towards the police station in the local community, the elder woman instructed her what she must say at the police depot.

“I am going to tell them she assaulted you,” she said, “and when the officer ask you, you must confirm that she did just that and you bled for two days.” The young woman listened and nodded, with apparent disinterest about the venture.

At the police depot, the desk officer straightened his shoulders, readjusted himself on a stool behind his counter and welcomed the mother and the young woman to the office. There was no flurry of activities for the rains had made sure of that, in a community that had experienced reports and counter reports by many on flimsy issues.

“Have a seat,” the desk officer instructed. “What is your problem?”

Like she had taken time to study the narrative, the older woman explained about a violent physical assault committed by a young woman she identified as Taneh on her daughter in law.

“The assault happened on a silly issue,” the woman said, “and a mother like me when I went to separate them,” she pointed at the pregnant girl, about eighteen or twenty, “Taneh cared little and beat on her.”

“Then what happened?” the officer probed on, and the woman went on.

“It was too bad so people in the community came and prevented her from causing more damage than what she had already done to us,” she ended her complaint and lowered her head, lifted the edge of her lappa to wipe her face.

The officer turned and regarded the pregnant girl and then said, “You took her to the clinic I will presume?”

“Yes,” the woman said, and the pregnant girl looked embarrassed and turned her face away from the officer.

The officer wanted confirmation, and so he turned to the pregnant woman.

“Is that what happened to you?”

With a grin, the young woman nodded, “Yes.”

“And you bled for how many days?”

“Yes,” she said, “since yesterday.”

“Did you go to any hospital or clinic?”

“Yes,” she said, and turned to look at the older woman for assistance, who then nodded,

“Ok,” the officer said, “we’ll try to get Taneh to the station here to answer to some questions.”

THE NEXT DAY, a police officer brought Taneh to the police depot to answer to accusations against her involvement in the alleged assault on the pregnant woman.

“You are accused of assaulting a pregnant woman yesterday?”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“I never fought any pregnant woman,” Taneh said. “It was an older woman who jumped on me to fight after she spoiled my room door.”

The officer listened to her objection, and though she admitted the altercation involved an older woman and not a pregnant woman and though apart from the complaint there was nothing tangible to support the assault top the complainant’s story, the officer would not give Taneh the benefit of the doubt and therefore decided to use the common practice.

“I am going to keep you in jail until I see the end of the case,” he said.

“But officer,” Taneh protested, “I never fought any pregnant woman.”

TANEH WAS THROWN in the police cell, awaiting further confirmation of the earlier report. Thirty minutes later, two men arrived at the police station and enquired about Taneh’s detention and what could be done to release her. The desk officer told them that the case involved the life of a pregnant woman so Taneh could not be released until the complainant decided the next course of action.

“One of our officers has investigated the case yesterday,” the officer said, and began to check in a ledger but did not find the report. He grabbed a mobile phone and after a couple of calls and a flurry of conversation, the officer confirmed to the two men that the officer who handled the case had told him that he could not get any confirmation about the bleeding allegation as well as the clinic where the pregnant woman allegedly sought treatment.

Then one of the men said, “Since this is the case, I am asking you to release Taneh from further detention and I will come back if you give me the time to meet with the complainant.”

“No,” the desk officer said. “It is not done that way.”

“Is there any case as far as you are concerned? Are you convinced that Taneh did what she is alleged to have done?” The desk officer could not answer but would not agree to let the detainee out of the cell.

THE TWO men decided to bring the pregnant woman and so they enquired about her residence and ten minutes later, they held a conference with her.

“You told the police that Taneh fought you?”

“Yes.”

“You said that you bled after the fight?”

“Yes.”

“Did you go to the clinic for any treatment?”

She hesitated and then said, “Yes.”

“Do you have any receipt from the clinic?”

Surprised at the question the young woman changed gears and said, “I won’t say anything until my mother-in law is here.”

“But you made the complaint at the police station and so we really don’t need your mother in law, do we?”

Hesitating further, she said, “I can’t say anything again till my mother-in law is here.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s gone to the market.”

It became apparent that the story about the bleeding and the clinic were lies because the two men realized she wanted her mother-in-law to be present, since it was the mother in law who had made the complaint at the police depot.

BACK AT THE police station ten minutes later, the two men narrated their encounter with the pregnant woman to the desk officer and followed it up with their request that they would sign to get custody of Taneh. The desk officer then directed the men to the Depot Commander, who was then occupied, reading a local newspaper.

“Can we release Taneh from cell since we are becoming aware that there is something fishy about the case.”

“Ok,” the commander said, and directing his attention to the desk officer, told him, “Check what the report about the case indicates and let me know.”

For several minutes the desk officer went through the ledger and finally with some difficulty located the report and handed it to the Depot Commander, who also went through it and realizing something was amiss, gave an order.

“Take the girl from the cell and let her sit on this bench,” he ordered the desk officer, who immediately fished out a couple of keys and proceeded to the cell. In about three seconds, Taneh followed the desk officer to the complaint room and sat on a bench directed by the officer.

SEVERAL HOURS LATER, Taneh was informed that she could secure her release with Ld1, 000. Though the complainant did not return to the police station to follow-up the case, the police would not release Taneh unless the amount was paid and family friends came around and she was able to raise at least Ld800 as a compromise with the police and was subsequently released on her own cognizance.

“Whoever is first to take a case to the police depot,” said a young man who heard the story after Taneh’s release, “is the good guy no matter the case and the accused would eventually pay to be free.”

“Who receive the money?”

“The money was paid to the officer who arrested the accused and it is shared with others. This is how police depots in Liberia handle cases because police officers don’t realize that they are trampling on the rights of their fellow countrymen.”

THAT EVENING ONE of the two men who had made some effort to secure Taneh’s release from police detention cell received a newspaper report conducted by a commissioner of the Governance Commission on human rights abuses by police officers across Liberia, along with fears by Liberian citizens on the doom that could overshadow them when UNMIL eventually completes its drawdown sometime in 2016.

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