By Martin K. N. Kollie
April 11, 2017
Col. Gregory Coleman
Liberia National Police
Republic of Liberia
Dear Col. Coleman,
With a deep sense of solidarity and empathy for an enterprising young lady who fell prey to police brutality in January of this year, I am overly constrained to pen this open letter to your office.
Since your appointment and confirmation as Inspector General in line with Section 22.76 of the National Police Act 2015, this is the first communication I am directly addressing to your office though I have been highlighting other issues pertinent to police brutality, insecurity and public safety.
Cognizant of your influence and herculean duties which are enshrined in Section 22.78 of the National Police Act 2015, I thought to forward this grave matter in such a manner. With optimism, your intervention would certainly guarantee a speedy redress.
Col. Coleman, on January 4, 2017, a young and industrious Liberian woman whose name is Sonah James, 26 years old, was severely brutalized by some officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) around Buchanan Street, central Monrovia.
Sonah, a vendor of sandwich bread, had come from selling after the County Sports Meet at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) when this unfortunate incident occurred. While en route to her residence almost 40 feet away from Buchanan Street, she was raided, knocked down and whipped with a rattan in her right eye.
Col. Coleman, it is essential to note that L$5,800 along with a cell phone costing US$35 was clandestinely snatched away by PSU officers during this vicious and arbitrary operation. After some days of public pressure, the police finally restituted Sonah’s L$5,800 along with a new cell phone.
Though I am not a paralegal and have no intention to prejudge, but isn’t this action a clear demonstration of guilt and admittance to wrongdoing? I am wondering why would any police officer (s) choose to stoop so low after obtaining advanced knowledge in public safety, rule of law and professional ethics.
After these police officers had accomplished this vile act against a peaceful civilian and a single mother, Police Spokesman Sam Collins claimed that Sonah James was in the wrong place at the wrong time even though he was not present during the incident. According to many eyewitnesses, Sonah was not selling on the street, but was rather en route to her residence when she was ruthlessly beaten.
In an interview with Mae Azango of FrontPage Africa (FPA), Tete Geebro of UNMIL radio and another reporter from Heritage Newspaper, Sonah disproved the second-hand claim made by the Police Spokesman and said that she was never in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a link to her interview with FPA (http://frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/news/2976-i-felt-someone-knock-me-from-the-back-liberia-police-brutalizes-woman-street-vendor).
Col. Coleman, since Sonah had this despicable encounter with police officers, she has been neglected by LNP to cater for herself. Though L$2,000 was spent initially by the LNP for Sonah’s medication (eye drops) at SDA Cooper Hospital when she was bleeding from her right eye; since then, no genuine step has been taken by the LNP to prevent Sonah from going blind.
Since January, we have been taking full responsibility for the medical expenses and sustenance of Sonah James and her family. Sonah has been on medication for almost 3 months now at the New Eye Sight Center in Paynesville. We are particularly grateful to the former MD of NPA Matilda Parker, Florence Efua Aikins, Jerry Wion, Alvin Tonnelle, Tetee Gebro and Abdullah Swaray for contributing towards Sonah’s medical needs and the livelihood of her family.
While seeking medication, Sonah was seen and treated by two professional ophthalmologists (eye doctors), namely: Dr. Catherine Bestman and Dr. Gaisie of the New Eye Sight Center. According to Sonah’s medical report which was released to us recently, she is suffering from traumatic uveitis and poor visual acuity as a result of a hole in her macula. Uveitis is inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, called the uvea or uveal tract. It can cause severe eye pain, redness, blurred vision and lead to vision loss.
Col. Coleman, the 4-page medical report recommends that Sonah needs to see a Vitero-Retino Ophthalmologist for effective treatment otherwise she could go blind, for life. A copy of this report is already en route to your office for perusal. Beyond every word I have penned, Dr. Bestman told me that if immediate action is not taken to rescue Sonah’s sight, the aftermath could be grave.
When I visited Sonah yesterday, she said to me: “Martin, tears continue to leak from my right eye especially during night hours. I am still feeling pain inside. I cannot see afar as a result of this. The police really hurt me and I have nobody to stand up for me, besides you and others who are doing well to keep me up. I hope to get better soon and only God will pay back those who did this to me.”
Col. Coleman, when Sonah spoke in such an aching and dejecting manner, I was broken and provoked to write you this letter. It is a pain that I and many others share with her. I know anyone of us could be in Sonah’s shoe. Sir, it is no secret that police brutality is increasing across Liberia. Sonah is just one of the many victims.
Col. Coleman, the action of Sonah’s accusers is a gross breach of duties and it clearly contravenes the following provisions of the 2015 National Police Act of Liberia:
- Section 22.72 subsection a(i), which guarantees public safety
- Section 22.90 subsection b(x), which points to misconduct of police officers
- Section 22.90 subsection b(vi), which frowns against any act of corruption
- Section 22.72 subsection a (iv), which guarantees the protection of a citizen’s life.
It is our hope that this communication will also claim the attention of the Liberia National Police Civilian Complaints Review Board and the Professional Standard Department in accordance with their functions, which are enshrined in Section 22.85 and Section 22.91(d-e) respectively. After 15 years of civil crises, Liberia deserves a disciplined and professional police force that is non-lethal and civilian-friendly. The Rule of Law must remain the basis for Police-Civilian Engagement.
We are making an SOS call to the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), UN Women, WHO, Female Legislative Caucus, Foundation for Women International, Samaritan Purse, US Embassy, Chinese Embassy and any organization to assist Sonah James in whatever way as she goes through this very difficult period of her life. We are particularly concerned about Sonah’s health and the need for her to meet a Vitero-Retino Ophthalmologist for advanced medical treatment as recommended. These are Sonah’s contact details:
Address: Carey & Lynch Street Intersection – Central Monrovia
Phone number: (+231) 886-632-906
Col. Coleman, as I look forward to your timely response, it is my hope that God shall intervene in Sonah’s behalf through your office.
Martin K. N. Kollie
International Human Rights Commission
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone #: (+231) 776-572-334