US Marine shot dead by Sierra Leone Police



In a case that has aroused much controversy and comment in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and among Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora, a man alleged to be a US Marine was shot dead by OSD officers in the Lumley Golf Club area on May 22, 2013. The case has been controversial from the beginning. Conflicting  accounts did the rounds in Freetown about how the man met his untimely death. The police presented a picture of a gun-wielding antagonist threatening the community, confronting police officers and refusing to obey instructions to surrender his weapon. The dead man, named as Abdul Kamara, was even said to have taken an OSD officer hostage before he was shot. Other accounts from bystanders presented a peaceful citizen on vacation in Sierra Leone from the US, a married man with young children for whom he had come to Freetown to make arrangements, who was inexplicably shot in the back by an overwhelming police force, as he was relaxing at the beach with friends and acquaintances.


Various groups and individuals weighed in with their views on the incident. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone issued a forthright statement on its Twitter site expressing concern over the shooting. In the middle of the furore the government announced a previously planned launching of sensitization for an independent Police Complaints Board, to be manned by civilians to investigate precisely such serious incidents involving the police. (You can read the statement by the Minister launching this sensitization here) The police currently man the existing complaints body, the CDIID, set up by a former Inspector-General, the Englishman Keith Biddle. Biddle had a keen eye for public relations, and at its inception the CDIID was given a high profile, but the body appears to now be moribund, and nothing has been heard from them on this matter.


This is by no means the first time the police have been involved in controversies of this nature. In October 2012, police allegedly shot two youths dead in Kono, following disturbances (Read about this here) In April 2012 the Sierra Leone Police were involved in an outbreak of violence at Bumbuna town that left one person dead and about 20 injured (Read the HRCSL report on this incident here). The Kelvin Lewis investigation into the Sept 9, 2011, incident in Bo where the SLPP flagbearer was wounded had this to say about the role of the police: “…The shootings were done by the OSD personnel in Bo and it resulted in one dead and twenty three people injured including two police personnel….Witnesses say that the motor bike rider pleaded not to be shot before he was shot and killed by an OSD officer…”.  In March, 2011, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone found police presidential bodyguards guilty of brutalizing electricity workers after a power failure during a presidential visit to the area (you can read the HRCSL statement here)


The Inspector-General of Police, Francis Munu, appeared on the popular FM98.1 Good Morning Sierra Leone show to react to this latest shooting incident on Tuesday June 4. He was in typically combative mood, exonerating the police of any blame for this or any of a list of such incidents put to him  by Ibrahim Tommy, a human rights activist who appeared with him on the programme. Mr Munu insisted repeatedly that the police acted within their rules of engagement and that the dead man had posed a threat to the community and the state. In an extensive interview replayed by FM98.1 during the programme, however, witnesses at the scene reported no such threat. You can download part of the programme here.


What concerns natinpasadvantage most, apart from the loss of life is the presence of a police boss who appears not to understand that one of his most important roles is to establish and maintain trust between the police and civilians, and that he can best do this not by bluster and intimidation, but by patience, tact and persuasion. He can win over the civilians, whose cooperation he needs, by presenting the full facts; by acknowledging mistakes where mistakes have been made and punishing perpetrators; by having a truly independent  and empowered internal police investigations procedure and by supporting an external police investigations procedure whenever necessary and particularly when it becomes clear that significant sections of the public are skeptical about the police version of a serious incident. What was clear during the course of the FM98.1 interview was that we have an old-style, one-party police chief at the helm of affairs, insensitive to human rights and the needs of modern-day police public relations. This attitude over time no doubt will filter, or has filtered, down to senior and midlevel officers and thence to the junior officers on the streets. Junior officers such as those that met up with Abdul Kamara on May 22.