32-year-old Kadiatu Koroma, a petty trader, may have had the courage to contest an accusation that she stole a handbag from another passenger in a public transport she was travelling in between Makeni and Kamabai. However, she didn’t have the power to prevent herself and her sick 17-months-old baby, Hannah Kanu, from being locked up in a crammed and stinking police cell where her infant girl eventually died from acute pneumonia.
Widespread condemnation by the general public and civil society groups influenced the setting up of a tribunal that recommended the dismissal of the two officers from the Sierra Leone Police Force. However, the question that lingers on the lips of many was whether Kadiatu’s ordeal was an accident that could have been prevented with a simple bail, or was she just another candidate of the misfortunes Sierra Leoneans encounter daily with law enforcement? As we ponder on this, it is clear that the poor petty trader would forever struggle to come to terms with the agony of losing a child in a police cell.
At her 21 Alimu Drive residence, Fullah Town in Makeni, Sierraeye visited Kadiatu Koroma, who obliged to recount her horrific encounter with police from the Panlap Division where she was charged for larceny.
On 23rd December 2021, Kadiatu was brought in for questioning with her child strapped on her back. She was pregnant. “I had left home that morning with my wares balanced on my head and my baby strapped on my back for the lorry park. I am also pregnant, but I can’t leave my child behind because my husband had gone to work. He is a power saw operator.” At Kamabai, she was first taken to ac police post after a co-passenger accused her of stealing her handbag containing items worth around Le750,000 (less than $40). She pleaded her innocence as the matter was transferred to the Panlap Police Division on the outskirts of Makeni. She was released and told to report the next day, but this freedom was short-lived. “It was on Dec 23rd, 2021. I saw Sannoh and another officer in my
residence. They asked me to take a motorcycle to the Panlap police station. I told them my daughter was sick and that I would report to the station after my child felt better. But they insisted I must go along with them to the station with my child,” she lamented. At the Police Station, the two officers, Sgt. 8415 Baimba Sannoh and Police O Constable Baindu Foday, arrested and detained Kadiatu Koroma and her child. The child, she said, had become very sick by that time. She begged that the baby be spared the indignity of being incarcerated for a crime it did not commit and also asked that they grant her bail through her husband, who she had contacted and was on his way from another town. These two appeals fell on deaf ears as the two police officers detained them both. The husband, Mohamed Kanu, a 48-year-old power saw operator, also confirmed to Sierraeye that he spoke to the police officers through mobile phone as a last-ditch attempt to prevent his wife and daughter from being detained as he was willing to come and secure their bail. Kadiatu went on with teary eyes, “Other police officers present objected to putting me and my daughter in the cell, but the two officers refused to listen”
Inside the police cell, her child’s condition started deteriorating and she screamed and shouted to draw the lock -up officers attention. she said the poor ventilation meant they could hardly breath inside the cell and at night fell, she realized there was nothing more she could do. Her 17-months old daughter, Anna Kanu, gave up the ghost around 9pm. Angry, fraustrated, and exhaust, poor Kadiatu Koroma drew whatever energy left in her to shout until a visiting traffic police officer came to discover the lifeless body of her child on a cold, filthy floor “I was locked up by Officer Baindu Foday together with my child Hannah Kanu and was eating a piece of bread when my baby became motionless. I cried out loud and called on the police, but they could until a traffic police officer who was visiting the station came close to my cell room and heard me crying. He then alerted the officers on duty about what had happened….my daughter was no more,” she cried. In the course of our investigation, there were unconfirmed reports that the police hierarchy in Makeni had attempted to cover up the incident by offering the deceased girl’s parents some financial inducements. However, in these days of smartphones and social media, the news had already filtered out of the police station. alerting residents and civil society leaders in Makeni. Public anger and the calls for justice for little Hannah and her parents reverberated outside Makeni Subsequently, a tribunal was set up to investigate four police officers believed to be involved in the matter. Inspector Amara Lovell Stevens was appointed as presiding officer for the tribunal.
The tribunal found two officers, Sergeant Baindu Sannoh and Police Constable Baindu Foday, guilty of breaching policing protocols. Amara Lovell Stevens recommended the dismissal of the two cops from the force as well as having their six months salaries used to compensate the family of the victim. Stevens also recommended that a Shift Commander on duty at the time of the incident, Police Constable Samuel Kargbo, and Station Sergeant Samatu Thoronka spend spend two weeks in correctional training. An autopsy examination concluded that Hannah Kanu died of severe anemia and acute malnutrition.
Commanding Officer and head of complaints and disciplinary unit of the Panlap Division, David Moore, said the autopsy result didn’t stop the police investigating the matter. He said all four officers investigated by the tribunal were prosecuted on a six-count charge, including incivility, murder, negligence, and indiscipline.