Westgate attack hero faces murder charge
Before the September 21, 2013 terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Chief Inspector Stephen Lelei was a low-profile police officer, only well known around Kabete, where he was the police station commander.
But he shot to fame after the attack as he was one of the nine police officers feted for their bravery in confronting the gunmen, who killed 67 people in the raid.
For his valour, Mr Lelei, nicknamed Ocampo — after the former no-nonsense International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo — was among police officers decorated with a Silver Star (SS) recognition by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
As one of the first armed responders, he had taken up the role of commander as he was the senior-most officer on site at the time.
During the attack, he was shot in the right leg as he led a hastily assembled team of officers in the battle against the heavily armed terrorists.
Still, he soldiered on until reinforcements arrived from the General Service Unit, Regular and Administration Police and the Kenya Defence Forces.
During the award ceremony, he said: “Luckily, the bullet had not hit my bones, just my flesh.” He was lucky, indeed, as some officers were shot and killed while others were badly injured.
And so his bravery was rewarded with bigger responsibility. Mr Lelei was transferred to Busia as the officer in charge of the weighbridge before returning to Nairobi’s Industrial Area Police Station to replace Chief Inspector Amos Shamalla.
Later, he was promoted and deployed to Mlolongo as the area police commander, where he cracked down on highway robbers targeting transit-goods vehicles, as well as commercial sex workers, illicit brewers and murderers.
Those who know Mr Lelei describe him as a soft-spoken but no-nonsense officer when it comes to dealing with crime.
“He is a nightmare to criminals,” said an officer who worked under him at the Soweto Police Station in Kayole Police Division.
So reliable has Mr Lelei been, the officer said, that the then Nairobi Provincial Police Officer King’ori Mwangi once sought his intervention when Kawangware taxi drivers and boda-boda riders blocked the busy Naivasha Road to protest the killing of seven taxi drivers by Administration Police officers.
“In less than 15 minutes, Lelei had restored traffic flow, a feat that hundreds of riot police officers had not managed for hours,” the officer said.
A year after the Westgate Mall attack, the policeman was in the news after his wife Matrida Muroso died of severe burns when their car caught fire at 3am on Thika Road near Safari Park Hotel.
According to reports, the couple was driving on the highway when the car suddenly caught fire and Mr Lelei jumped out. His wife did not escape.
“I heard a loud explosion, pulled over and jumped out but my wife did not,” Mr Lelei said. He later told investigators that he was being trailed by a car that had four occupants.
Later, in 2015, Mr Lelei was arraigned after the mother of a child who was defiled years earlier told a court that a bedsheet that was part of the evidence was being used as a curtain in an office at the Soweto Police Station, where Mr Lelei was the station commander (OCS).
Makadara Senior Resident Magistrate Evelyn Nyongesa had summoned Mr Lelei, alongside an investigating officer only named as Nthenya, to explain why the case had been delayed.
But these issues did not stop the National Police Service from celebrating Mr Lelei as one of the bravest police officers in Nairobi.
It was during his leadership at Syokimau Police Station that lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri were killed and their bodies dumped in the River Athi near Ol-Donyo Sabuk in Matungulu, Machakos County.
Mr Lelei’s juniors, Fredrick Leliman, Leonard Mwangi, Sylvia Wanjiku and Stephen Cheburet were charged with the murder of the three.
The court has on several occasions summoned Mr Lelei to give his account in the ongoing trial.
A police informer, Peter Ngugi, who confessed to helping the suspected killers, gave a minute-by-minute narration of how the plan was hatched, all the way through to its execution, and told the court that he met Fredrick Leliman through Mr Lelei.
And now, to make matters worse for the decorated officer, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) on Thursday this week recommended that Mr Lelei and Mr Leliman be charged with the murder of another couple — Jacob Mwenda Mbai and Elizabeth Nduku — in Mlolongo on May 27, 2016, just a month before the murder of Mr Kimani, his client and the taxi driver.
Ipoa, which has been investigating the deaths of the two, said they were shot by police officers, who later reported that they were responding to a suspected robbery.
“Upon independent review of Ipoa’s findings, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions wrote to the authority and gave the green light to charge the officers with murder,” Ipoa chairperson Anne Makori said.
The families of the two victims had sought Ipoa’s help, claiming Mr Leliman (whom they identified as Maasai) shot them after an altercation, and that the shooting had nothing to do with a robbery.
Jacob’s father, Cosmas Mbai, told NTV at their home in Mlolongo that they had reported the shooting to the police, entered under OB number 34/28/5/2016, but had not received redress.
Jacob’s uncle said the 23-year-old was shot by two police officers attached to the Mlolongo Police Station, whom he identified as an OCS and one Fredrick Leliman.
Witnesses told Ipoa that after Jacob closed his car-wash business in Athi River at 5pm that day, he visited his elder brother in Mlolongo, but first went to have tea near Way Bridge Gardens, where he heard gunshots later and he and other customers went to check what was happening.
“They saw two police officers running after a young man towards Mombasa Road. The police turned on the onlookers and started firing indiscriminately,” one witness said.
“As the crowd ran in different directions, Jacob was shot while scampering to safety at the hotel. The bullet injured his lower diaphragm and the spine.”
The police officers then said that they had killed a suspected robber, and that the crowd realised that a woman had also been shot.
The crowd became agitated, prompting other police officers to fire teargas at them.
Jacob’s brother said the police claimed there had been a robbery at Tango Club, but the bar owner dismissed this and recorded a statement to that effect.
Jacob and the woman were taken to Shalom Hospital by a Good Samaritan and later to Machakos Level Five Hospital. They died later at Kenyatta National Hospital.
The two officers reportedly followed the victims to Shalom, requested X-ray reports and left after establishing that there were no bullets lodged in their bodies.
The next day, Jacob’s brother filed a complaint at the Mlolongo Police Station under OB number 34/28/05/2016, where an officer he identified only as Baraza told him the two officers in the shooting had recorded statements on an exchange of fire that had resulted in the deaths of two people.
Ipoa says it has also forwarded files to the Director of Public Prosecutions recommending the prosecution of Mr Lelei and Mr Leliman, and that the DPP is satisfied with the evidence.
Mr Lelei is based in the personnel office at the National Police Service headquarters at Vigilance House.