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Two police officers face probe for assault

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Shocked residents at the scene where cops assaulted Bernard Sigilai for felling an indigenous tree despite having a permit from the area chief on October 26, 2021, in Olenguruone. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard].

Police in Kuresoi South are in a spot after two officers reportedly assaulted a resident they found felling a tree on a farm at Olenguruone town on Tuesday. 
Residents said they watched helplessly as the armed officers roughed up their victim, identified as Bernard Sigilai, and confiscated his power saw.
Westley Rotich, who was working with the victim, said one of the officers picked a plank they had cut and started beating Sigilai with it.
“The officers approached us and demanded to know if we had the permit to cut down the tree and convert it into timber. They also wanted to know who owned the land on which the tree stood,” said Rotich.
He added: “I had the permit which I handed to one of the officers. He was still reading it when his colleague picked a heavy piece of wood and hit my colleague in the ribs. Sigilai fell down but the officer did not stop. He continued raining kicks and blows on him.”
Rotich said the officers did not appear to have been interested to know whether the permit was genuine or not, or if they had a permit at all.
“They turned violent and we did not understand why. One of the officers aimed his gun at Sigilai, for the second time, and I tried to move in to stop him but the other officer restrained me. By this time, my friend was writhing in pain, begging for mercy,” he said.
A witness, Pauline Chebet, said one of the officers ordered Sigilai to put down his power saw which was still running but he declined. He told the officers that they had not broken any law as they had the permit, Chebet said.
“Soon after, the officer hit him with the wooden plank. Sigilai dropped the power which nearly cut him on the feet were it not that he rolled away. The officer lifted the plank to hit him again but we screamed. He was forced to stop,” said Chebet. 
Raelene Sigei said the two police officers later dragged Sigilai through the bushes to their vehicle and continued to assault him. 
“One of the officers pinned him down next to their vehicle by stepping on him. We screamed again. We told them to take them to the police station and charge him if they felt he had committed an offence,” Sigei said.
She said the officers walked back to the scene and loaded the power saw and the timber that Sigilai and Rotich had already cut into their car and sped off.
Alice Chelule, the owner of the farm said, an old indigenous tree was dangerously hanging over her rental houses. She said she sought government approval to cut it down. 
“I informed the Kenya Forest Service whose officers visited my farm last week. They saw the threat the tree posed to my tenants and instructed me to get a permit from the administration and cut it down. I obliged,” said Chelule. 
She said she was shocked to learn people she had hired to cut the tree down and convert it into timber had been attacked by the police.
“I don’t know why the officers attacked them even after producing the permit and other relevant documents,” said Chelule.  
“From 9am, the police officers held Sigilai at their cells over an undisclosed offence. It was at 4pm when his condition worsened, following the injuries he sustained when they attacked him, that they took him to Olenguruone Sub County Hospital,” said Chelule. 
Area chief Kenneth Bett confirmed having approved the felling of the tree and expressed shock over the conduct of the two police officers. 
“I wrote the approval letter on October 25 after considering the danger the tree was posing to residents. I am yet to understand what prompted the officers to assault the man,” said Bett. 
Kuresoi South sub-county police commander Henry Nyaranga confirmed having received the complaint adding that the matter is under investigation. 
“I am following up on the case to establish what could have led to the incident. Action shall be taken against any officer found culpable,” said Nyaranga.  



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