By Fred Mukinda
A police officer who was shot over poaching last week may have been murdered in cold blood according to forensic findings, his colleagues and family members.
The shooting at Solio ranch, one of the most protected conservancies in Kenya, was carried out by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers who later said the policeman was among a gang of poachers who had sneaked in to kill rhinos.
Constable George Nderitu Mwangi was attached to the Central Bank in Nyeri, and was killed together with Mr William Gichui Kariuki from Muhotetu area in Nyandarua.
According to the KWS rangers, the two were killed following a fierce exchange of fire, with a third poacher allegedly escaping.
But the officer’s colleagues have cast doubt on the explanation, saying indications are that the January 18 shooting was a well-orchestrated murder and the scene where his body was found was “stage-managed”.
After a post mortem examination conducted on Friday, pathologist Moses Njue, who was hired by the family, supported the claim. The officer’s colleagues who were first at the scene inside the vast privately owned ranch, say the rangers’ account of events was not consistent with what they saw.
According to them, they expected to find the ground soaked in blood. But instead there were “a few bloodstains” which led them to suspect the two were killed elsewhere and the bodies then taken to the ranch.
They say they saw “glaring facts that could not be ignored” after viewing the bodies at the Nyeri Hospital mortuary.
They told the Sunday Nation that the bullet wounds appeared to have been inflicted by a gun fired from a “point blank range,” discounting the rangers’ account that they shot at the poachers from a distance.
“The story has huge gaps that cannot be explained. The guy was shot at close range with a very powerful gun. He has three bullet wounds in the chest and another on the left wrist which suggests he was trying to defend himself,” said Dr Njue.
“The injuries are not horizontal, meaning he was shot from the top downwards. There are also no remnants of bullets in his body.”
The Sunday Nation agreed not to identify the officers who first generated the theory that their colleague was killed in cold blood because they are not authorised by the Police Service to speak to the media.
The officers said Nderitu’s clothes had burn marks around the bullet holes, which they said happens when a bullet is fired at close range. The burn leaves a residue of gunpowder.
Dr Njue said the shots were fired from not more than six inches away.
“Why were pathologists not called to the scene? What was the urgency of taking him to the morgue? He was dead anyway, and the presence of a doctor at the scene could have answered many questions.”
The officers also denied claims of a fierce exchange of fire because the three bullet wounds on their colleague’s chest were next to each other.
“The bullet wounds did not show consistency with those sustained in a fierce gun fight because they were very close together. This can only be possible if they were fired at a stationary target. The first shot should have knocked him over and the other bullets should have hit elsewhere. This shows he had been restrained at one spot.”
The KWS public relations officer said any matter involving the death of a person, no matter the circumstances, is handled by the police.
“I would be very hesitant to make a comment,” said Mr Paul Udoto.
Director of Criminal Investigations Ndegwa Muhoro asked anyone with information on the death to talk to police.
“If it coincides with the facts then we follow it up to the end. Any death must be investigated and the matter can only be disposed of by way of a public inquest.”
He said there was a “serious poaching menace” in Solio ranch, which is home to the endangered white rhino. KWS and General Service Unit officers guard the ranch.
After Nderitu was killed, the rangers announced the recovery of a G3 rifle with seven bullets and an axe. A bag marked GSU 74 lay at the scene together with car keys and a smaller key used to unlock handcuffs.
Following the incident, another officer claimed that poachers had devised a method kafara (sacrifice) to escape arrest.
According to him, kafara involves killing people lured into the game reserves with the promise of making quick money, while the real poacher escapes with game trophies.
“The killing is meant to convince the authorities that those tasked with protecting animals are working hard by confronting armed poachers and killing them. At times, a trophy is recovered, but there is always one who escapes,” he said.