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Editorial: Death of Mohammed Diallo: A Litmus Test for New Police Administration

‘Inmate Dies in Police Cell’ was one of the front page stories published in the Monday, April 30, 2012 edition of the New Dawn-Liberia. The story focused on the death of an inmate identified as Mohammed Diallo at a local police station in the Sinkor suburb of Monrovia. Mohammed’s dead body was discovered in the cell of Airfield Police Depot also known as Salem on Sunday morning among fellow inmates.

According to other inmates, the man, who had been in jail since April 20, 2012 for his indebtedness to his colleague to the tone of Four Hundred and Thirty Liberian Dollars, may have met his death as a result of suffocation after the Commander of the Police Station, Harry Bai allegedly used ‘pepper spray’’ to subdue an attempted riot in prison by the inmates.

Commander Bai is reported to have entered the 8-by-8 detention cell which contained 18-inmates  on Saturday night , spraying  the  detainees after he had previously  attempted to calm them to avoid a ‘jail-break’ to no avail. A number of detainees became unconscious (fainted) after the use of the ‘pepper spray’ by the Police Commander, but Mohammed Diallo, a Fula, felt victim.

While the Liberia National Police and family members of the deceased continue to remain tight-lipped on this matter, the credibility of the police may likely be questioned by the public if circumstances leading to the death of Mohammed Diallo are again swept under the rug. As the new administration of the Liberia National Police to internally reorganize in a bid to transform the institution, its first challenge is to probe this matter.

While information about unbearable prison conditions at various police stations and depots throughout the country to the authorities of the LNP may be scanty or not available, the urgent need for more proactive measures to solve many of these challenges cannot be over-emphasized. The Chris Massaquoi administration could even include such measures as part of its hundred and fifty day deliverables.

Such proactive measures, if we should suggest, include the enlargement of prison cells, improvement of detention facilities, as well as the limitation of the number of detainees in a cell.  As part of its transformation process, the new police administration must also ensure that its zones, sub stations or depots around the country discontinue the use of torture to extract evidence from suspects.

It is no secret that the manner and form commanders, officers and other personnel of the LNP continuously conduct themselves while ‘discharging’ their duties in communities and cities are so discouraging and frustrating. Despite the millions of U.S. dollars spent by the international community to reform the security apparatus, most especially the Liberia National Police, change among service men and women continues to be elusive.

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Probably, the public’s only hope now for a good police force is the new team led by Director Chris Massaquoi. The team must ensure that “a spade must be called a spade” to restore public hope in the police. And the first step is a thorough and impartial investigation into the death of Mohammed Diallo at the Airfield (Salem) Police Station. This should be seen as a litmus test for the Chris Massaquoi administration.

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