Police officer ordered to pay Shs 40m for arbitrary arrest, illegal detention

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Iganga, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The Iganga Chief Magistrates Court has ordered Stella Nankunda, an Assistant Superintendent of Police based in Namutumba, to compensate two Court Process Servers with Shs 40 million for their unlawful arrest and detention. The Court Process Servers, Michael Kaluusi and Richard Mwesigwa, are employed in the Iganga High Court Circuit.

Chief Magistrate Daniel Kiboko Epobu, who issued the judgment, ruled that ASP Nankunda, the CID Officer for Namutumba Central Police Station, must also publicly apologize to the court officials within 30 days from May 15, 2024, the date of the decision.

Additionally, the Chief Magistrate imposed a permanent injunction to prevent Nankunda from further infringing upon Kaluusi and Mwesigwa’s rights to liberty and to practice their profession. Nankunda was found liable for violating these rights and was ordered to pay 10 per cent annual interest on the compensation and cover the costs incurred by the process servers in their defense.

The ruling followed a petition filed in March 2024 by the Court Process Servers through their lawyer, Steven Kalali.

The Court Process Servers recounted to the Iganga Chief Magistrate that on December 14, 2023, they attempted to serve court documents to Sulaina Logose, a defendant in a land case. During the process, they were assaulted by Logose and subsequently reported the assault to Namutumba Police Station, where Nankunda is the CID Officer, under Reference Number SF 59/14/12/2023.

Despite being victims of the assault, Nankunda unjustifiably ordered their detention from 2 pm to 7 pm. Kaluusi and Mwesigwa claimed they were held without cause, deprived of their liberty, and threatened with harsh treatment by Nankunda, who asserted her authority arrogantly.

Evidence presented in court revealed that when Kaluusi attempted to leave the room to retrieve their motorcycle (UG 110J), Nankunda threatened them with being shot if they moved.

“That the respondent even told us that the criminal file that had been entered by her subordinates at Namutumba Police Station would not see light as even though we had recorded statements at police in regard to the said file, she being the in charge knew how best she was to handle it,” adds the affidavit.

Kalali informed the court that during the detention, Nankunda was frequently on the phone with the suspect Logose, against whom his clients had filed a complaint. It was only later that night, after persistently proclaiming their innocence to other police officers, that Kaluusi and Mwesigwa were finally released.

Kalali argued that Nankunda’s actions in restricting his clients’ freedom of movement, despite them being victims seeking justice, constituted an abuse of her authority and the Uganda Police Force uniform. He contended that Nankunda should be personally held accountable for violating their rights and requested the court to issue several orders and declarations against her.

In her defense, Nankunda attempted to present evidence through an affidavit. However, the court struck out this affidavit on April 11, 2024, because she had not appeared before the Commissioner of Oaths, leaving her without any defense on record.

In his ruling, Chief Magistrate Kiboko stated that Nankunda’s actions in detaining Kaluusi and Mwesigwa while they were performing their professional duties were unjustifiable. “The applicants identified themselves as court process servers, but Nankunda ignored this,” Kiboko said.

Kiboko further noted that even if Nankunda had doubts about the applicants’ identities, she could have verified this through various electronic means with the entity that employed them, rather than detaining them.

“The respondent went ahead to detain them which denied them the chance to go and execute their work. The applicants thus proved that their right to practice their profession and to carry on their lawful occupation was violated by the respondent through her actions,” adds the judgement.

The court has also ruled that Nankunda detained the Court Process Servers for five hours without a justification which was an infringement on their right to liberty.

“I take note of the fact that the respondent acted out within gross impunity towards the applicants , this kind of excesses by people in authority towards citizens to whom they are accountable ,should be condemned at all costs,” said Kiboko.

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Although Lawyer Kalali also requested the court to dismiss Nankunda from the Police Force for her unprofessional conduct, the court determined that the 40 million shilling compensation she must pay to the Process Servers is sufficient punishment to encourage her reform.

Speaking to reporters, Kalali welcomed the court’s decision, stating that Nankunda’s actions violated several constitutional provisions.

In 2019, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni signed the Human Rights Enforcement Act into law. This act holds uniformed personnel personally liable for actions that infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights, preventing them from being shielded by the Attorney General.

Museveni approved this law to curb gross impunity and acts of torture by security officers, aiming to reduce both the incidence of such abuses and the financial burden on the government for defending individual illegal acts not sanctioned by the State.