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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Driver accuses police of unlawful detention, maltreatment

 By Alagie Manneh

A commercial van driver has told The Standard how the police ‘pepper-sprayed’ him during a prolonged detention that lasted for six days.

Mr Amadou Bah, 38, claimed he was also insulted and called names at the Kanifing police station, while in detention for a minor traffic violation when he drove a car with a broken rear mirror.

But the Amdalai native said he was being targeted by police since 2019 when he first encountered them and was dragged to court and fined.

Following his arrest on 14 April for driving with a broken rear mirror, he said his vehicle was confiscated at the Mobile Traffic who then ordered for his detention at the Kanifing police.

Mr Bah said he suffered numerous violations for which he had to seek medical assistance and is now speaking out in fear of his life because the police vow they will be coming for him again.

He said: “I was arrested in the night at the Mobile Traffic areas. A police man asked for my insurance and driver’s license and I gave them to him but he saw that one of my rear mirrors was damaged and asked what happened. I said one driver hit the mirror but the unimpressed policeman ordered me to park my vehicle inside the Mobile Traffic building.”

He said the next day, he went back for his vehicle but a police officer told him he should be arrested and taken to Mile II for refusing to pay a court fine.

According to Mr Bah, it was then that one inspector Ismaila Trawally instructed two officers to take him to Mile II. “But they instead took me to the Kanifing police station that evening.”

He narrated that while there, he and other suspects were asked to go inside a small room in the police cell but he refused, telling the police the gravity of his crime should not warrant him going inside that cell.

“Then two police officers threatened that I must go willingly or by force. I accepted and went inside,” he said.

He recounted that the next morning, one Ceesay, a police officer, asked if he was the detainee “making all that noise here”.

“He then insulted me and my mother in English and I also insulted back. He then used his feet to smash the cage wire against my head before leaving; and then returning with a spray and started spraying my face and head. It felt like pepper. My whole body sort of died. I wanted to run but couldn’t. I was shocked because I didn’t expect something like this would happen in our police stations. I spent 72 hours there,” the driver narrated.

Mr Bah said it was then that he demanded to be released since he exhausted the 72-hour constitutional mandated detention.

“When I told the SO I should be released now, he said he was going to call Mobile Traffic since they brought my case there. The SO went home and I ended up spending six days in detention, without charge,” he said.

He told The Standard the following morning, two officers escorted him back to Mobile Traffic where Inspector Ismaila Trawally told him to “pay up and cease being stubborn or die here”.

“I told him I can’t just pay to you my hard-earned money without any receipt. Then he angrily walked away.”

Mr Bah said it was after a while that they decided to release him, but not all his confiscated documents.

“They refused to give me my driver’s license saying I never gave it to them. I had to go without my driver’s license because I was afraid of another illegal detention,” he said.

Health complications

He said the following day, he went back to the Kanifing Station to find out exactly what was sprayed on his face because he was having trouble breathing. “But they started insulting me again, and I left.”

He said it was then that he went to see one Njie, a doctor who operates a pharmacy who sent him to Kanifing General Hospital where he did blood test and X-Ray. He showed The Standard a copy of those tests.

“An X-ray showed the penetration of the spray in my chest,” he re-counted.  

Mr Bah said he wants to know why he was sprayed and why his detention lasted that long. “These people are trying to kill me. They have reported me to the drug squad who are conniving with them to implicate me,” he asserted. 

Responding to the allegations, Ceesay, the officer, denied ever pepper-spraying the suspect.

“Why would I do that? He is lying. He was the one who was insulting us here. I think the OC explained everything to you,” Ceesay said walking away.

The Standard visited the Kanifing police where OC Superintendent Alieu Sowe, echoed the views of his officer, saying the suspect “must be lying”.

“I am a professional. I have served the police for more than 30 years. I have worked in and outside the Gambia. I am also a third-year law student of the UTG. So, I am not a layman in this job,” the superintendent said in his office.

“I do not condone such behaviours here. The security sector reform is on. If I am aware of this, they know, and if it had happened, I will not hesitate to punish even my own officers,” he stressed.   

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