THE coroner’s court has directed the Commissioner of Police in Lusaka Luckson Sakala to ensure the police officer who killed 14-year-old Frank Mugala is held accountable for murder.
The coroner said the perpetrator deliberately killed Mugala knowing that he would be protected by the “trending police culture”, which is the “code of silence”.
In an open verdict of inquest into the death of Mugala, coroner Stanford Ngobola established that police officers murdered the 14-year-old.
He said it was infuriating that the mis-doer who took away the life of an innocent boy could not be brought to book now because he was under the protection of the “blue code of silence” which had become a common trend among police officers.
The blue wall of silence, also blue code and blue shield, are terms used to denote the informal code of silence among police officers not to report on a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes, including police brutality.
Mugala, who was a grade eight pupil at Chazanga Primary School, a nephew of deputy speaker of the National Assembly Catherine Namugala, was shot dead by the police on his way home from school on February 13, 2020 whilst dispersing residents who were protesting over the chemical gassing incidents of homes and schools which had rocked the country last year.
This was after word went round that management at Chazanga Primary School was shielding culprits behind the gassing.
During hearing, Dr Luchenga Muchelenganga, a forensic pathologist, told the coroner’s court that the cause of Mugala’s death was a physical disruption of the spinal cord in the neck, which was triggered by a gunshot on the left side of his back.
Dr Muchelenganga told corona Ngobola that Mugala’s death was a homicide as he did not suffer from any disease.
Dr Muchelenganga explained that he conducted an external examination on the corpse and he noticed a wound on the back, which was oval in shape and another wound in the neck.
He said when he dissected the body, he discovered that one of the lungs had collapsed due to perforation.
“Among the things that were peculiar is that the gunshot was not round. It was elitical in shape and that made me come to the conclusion that the bullet might have hit an intermediate object before landing on the deceased’s body,” Dr Muchelenganga explained.
“The bullet penetrated the lung and hit the spinal code and exited at the right side of the neck. The path direction of the bullet was from left to right or down going up. This happens if someone is bending over or when they lie down.”
He said his opinion was that the cause of death was a gunshot on the back, which disrupted the cervical spine.
“The manner of death is a homicide, the gunshot wound is atypical suggestive of a ricochet bullet. The gunshot was incapacitation immediately,” said Dr Muchelenganga.
In his verdict, coroner Ngobola said the testimony of Mugala’s uncle, Blessings Hara, based on his narration of events which was seamless cogent, his demeanor reflected the truth as it was and his evidence incriminates the police officers at the scene of crime as the assailants of Mugala.
He found that the police fired live bullets at the scene and one of the bullets hit Mugala who sustained gunshot wounds which led to his death.
The coroner said the officer who fired the gunshot had formed the necessary intention to either cause death or grievous harm on Mugala and it was clear from the evidence on record that a crime of murder was committed.
“The analysis of the investigation officer’s (a Mr Mubita, an officer-in-charge at Emmasdale police) evidence in cross-examination would lead me to a conclusion that there were police officers at the scene and some officers were in possession of firearms,” the coroner said.
“Hara said that the gunshots were being fired from a white Toyota Land Cruiser and according the investigation officer, some of the police officers who were in the Land Cruiser were senior officers.”
Coroner Ngobola stated that according to Section 24(2) of the Zambia police Act, Chapter 107 of the Zambian laws, no police officer is allowed to fire live ammunition against any person in the presence of senior police officers except under the instructions of the superior officer.
He said despite Mubita being aware that there were senior police officers who participated in the operation, he never bothered to record statements from them during investigations to confirm whether or not the senior officers who were part of the operation gave directives to fire gunshots.
“It is unfortunate that the witnesses were not availed to give evidence at the inquiry and as a result many unanswered questions have been created as to what transpired on the fateful date and who among the police officers shot Mugala,” the corona said.
“Many rounds of ammunition were fired but the police did not pick up any projectile or cartridges from the scene. The investigations officer went to the crime scene two days after the incident when the scene was already compromised and it is impossible to come to a conclusive determination as to who fired the gunshot.”
Coroner Ngobola said Mubita did not do enough to uncover the truth in relation to the officer who fired the bullet that killed Mugala.
“None of the officers who took part in the operation testified in the matter which has frustrated the court from determining the identity of the culprit. The investigations officer did not do thorough investigations and if he had done so, he would have identified the police officer who committed the murder,” the corona said.
He noted that there was a scheme to cover up the identity of the police officer who killed Mugala as the police have employed the blue code of silence where officers were not disclosing incriminating evidence against their colleagues to cover up their wrongdoing.
“An innocent life was taken away by trigger happy police officers who were comfortable to know that they will be covered by the blue code of silence, so they shot Mugala who did not even participate in the demonstration but he paid the ultimate price of death.”
He said the person who took away the life of an innocent boy cannot be brought to book now because he is under the protection of the blue shield.
“I find that the death of the deceased was by deliberate shooting by a police officer whose identity has been frustrated by police officers covering up one another under the blue cord of silence,” said coroner Ngobola.
“As provided for under section 29 of the inquest Act Chapter 36 of the Zambian laws, I order that a copy of these proceedings be and is hereby forwarded to the Commissioner of police for necessary action.”
And Mugala’s uncle, Lloyd, said the family was yet to decide on the next step in seeking justice over the juvenile’s death.
“The coroner’s report is fair, it has uncovered everything that we as a family desired so much to know what transpired and who is responsible for Frank’s death. The coroner’s report is objective and they have made a recommendation to the Commissioner of police,” said Mugala.
“As a family we have to sit down and chart the way forward. We know that there was a conspiracy by the police to shut out that case and pinpoint who is responsible for having opened fire within the school premises.”