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GeneralLiberia news

Magistrates trade blames over detained sheriff’s death

--As Chief Justice launches investigation

The deceased’s family has accused the magistrates of allegedly ordering his detention where he remained and died in a police cell.

By Lincoln G. Peters

Monrovia, June 6, 2024: The Magistrates assigned at the Clay Ashland Magisterial Court in Brewerville City, Montserrado County, are engaged in a blame game over the death of a sheriff they had detained at a police station.

Clay Ashland Magisterial Court Sheriff Andrew Hills died in detention at the Zone Six Police Depot in Brewerville, Montserrado County Electoral District #17.

The deceased’s family said Mr. Hills was on his way to make an arrest when he was involved in an accident that left him injured, potentially causing his failure to execute the court’s order.

The bereaved family narrated that Hills was taken into custody and placed behind bars at the Zone Six Police Depot under the mandate of Cllr Augustine Togba, the head Magistrate at the court.

The family accused Magistrate Togba of instructing his Associate Magistrate Benetta Y. Gedeo to imprison Sheriff Hills for failing to execute the court’s order.

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According to them, Magistrate Togba had noted that Sheriff Hills was given L$800 as transportation fare to carry out the arrest, but he failed to do so for two weeks before his family could ask the court for an excuse on his behalf.

When his family’s intervention failed to remedy the situation with the magistrate, the late Andrew Hills spent three days behind bars.

They said he remained in police custody and later died there on a Sunday morning due to his critical condition. 

After his death, the handling of Hill’s body is said to have also caused more outrage.

Cllr. Togbah has been accused of allegedly taking the body to the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial Hospital without the consent of his family.

The family has refused to retrieve the body from the hospital and is demanding justice for the deceased.

Cllr. Augustine Togba denied the allegation in a telephone conversation with the NewDawn Newspaper on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

He said he didn’t instruct anyone to put Mr. Hills in prison.

Magistrate Togba suggested that this paper contact Associate Magistrate Benetta Y. Gedeo, who he believes can better explain and discuss the matter.

He further argued that he cannot instruct or mandate the magistrate to detain Sheriff Hills when they have concurrent jurisdiction.   

“I did not order or instruct Andrew Hills to be placed behind bars. It’s the other Magistrate, not me. You can call the family to give you the other magistrate’s number to call her, but it’s not me, and she will speak to that,” said Magistrate Togbah.

“How do I give mandate or instruction to another magistrate when we all have concurrent jurisdiction, which means we all have the same power?” he argued.

“So, the information that they are giving that I gave mandate to her is not true, and so, let them give you her number,’’ Magistrate Togbah clarified.

When contacted by telephone, Associate Magistrate Benetta Y. Gedeo said she couldn’t speak to anything that had to do with the death of Sheriff Hills.

She continued that she had no comment because the Chief Justice was investigating the matter.

“Excuse me, did I hear you saying you are [a] judicial reporter? So then, I guess you understand the procedure and the protocol right,” she told our reporter.

“You want to get information on something from the court, so procedurally, it’s the Chief Justice’s Office that you should be asking about because she has taken control of the matter,” Magistrate Gedeo stated.

“Please go to her officer for any information. They told us not to make any comment,” she said angrily and ended the phone conversation.

Mr. Abenego Hills, son of the late Sheriff Hills, told our reporter via mobile phone that after his father’s first treatment at a clinic, he accompanied his dad to the court to inform his boss about his sickness.

According to him, it was at this point that Cllr. Togbah allegedly instructed that Sheriff Hills be placed behind bars.

Based upon the head Magistrate’s alleged order, Abenego claimed that the Associate Magistrate ordered a bike, and his father was taken to the Zone Six Police Depot, where he spent three days.

He narrated that his younger brother visited the police cell and found that his father had died there.

“My younger brother went to visit our father on Sunday to give him food, the police officer on duty demanded four hundred Liberia dollars because it was late,” said Abenego.

“However, he gave her three hundred. When he got [to] the cell, he shouted our father’s name and did not answer,” Abenego continued.

Later, he said, one of the inmates told them that Mr. Hills had died. He indicated that the inmate said that their father was trembling, and fume oozed out of his mouth.

He detailed the alleged inmate’s account, saying they called the police, but they didn’t help until Hills died.

“We are calling for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding our father’s death and for those responsible to be held accountable,” said Abenego.

“We are also seeking justice for the mistreatment of his body and the lack of transparency at which the case is currently proceeding.”

He informed this paper that the matter is before the Liberia National Police and the Supreme Court.

He alleged that Magistrate Togbah called them for a meeting at JFK, asking them to take Mr. Hills’ body for burial.

But Abenego noted that they refused because they needed an investigation.

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