Police officers sweat under cross-examination by lawyers representing mayor Aki-Sawyerr – Op ed

Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 October 2022:

The criminal prosecution of Mayor Aki-Sawyer by the Government of Sierra Leone through the Sierra Leone Police, got underway on 14th October 2022 and had its third sitting on Wednesday 26th October 2022. Mayor Aki-Sawyer is on trial for allegedly obstructing police duties, an accusation she denies.

Sierra Leoneans may recall that Mayor Aki-Sawyer has relentlessly experienced harassed from the Bio government, who have used all the powers of state to convict her of criminal wrongdoing, so that she would be barred from contesting for the Freetown municipality at the June 2023 elections. All the government’s efforts, including that of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner have been futile, as this trial will also be.

On 17th September 2022, Mayor Aki-Sawyer and her colleague, Councillor Sheku Alasine Gibril Turay, arrived at Lungi Airport to board an Air France flight for their trip to United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York. After a couple of hours waiting in the VIP Lounge and after receiving their boarding passes, an announcement was made for Council Turay to present himself to Immigration. When Councillor Turay presented himself at immigration, he was arrested by the Sierra Leone Police at Lungi Airport.

Councillor Turay was unable to use his telephone which he surrendered to the police upon his arrest, but was allowed by one of the officers, Sgt Richard O Caulker (who is the State’s Second Witness) to use his phone to call Mayor Aki-Sawyer. Councillor Turay informed Mayor Aki-Sawyer that the Police had arrested him when he responded to the announcement to present to immigration. Sierra Leoneans would recall the impassionate Facebook live video made by Mayor Aki-Sawyer, when she went to meet the Police, in which she complained about the process used to detain Councillor Turay.

At the trial on 26th October 2022, the first witness for the State, Corp Fanta Fofanah claimed that the Mayor had walked into the Police Station, screaming at the top of her voice and that she went to meet the Mayor at the Charge Desk, admonished her that she should not conduct herself in this manner. The witness stated that she was the one to advise the Mayor to seek clarification from the LUC.

Under cross examination, Corp Fofanah was asked by the Defence Counsel to read out her witness statement. Contrary to her statement in court, she clearly stated that it was in fact the Mayor who had asked to speak to the senior police personnel because she was unable to answer her questions. The defense counsel put it to Corp Fofanah that the Mayor had asked questions like any concerned citizen would; and that when the questions were not answered, she asked to be taken to a senior personnel and that Corp Fofanah agreed to take the mayor to the LUC.

Ms Fofanah also claimed in court that Mayor Aki-Sawyer had disrupted the Police while they were taking statements from Councillor Turay.

Defence Counsel put it to both witnesses that they were not taking any statements from the Councillor and therefore the Mayor had not obstructed any activity. The Defense Counsel asked if there was a warrant for the arrest of the councillor; the witness’s answer was that they did not know.

The defense counsel asked if the councillor had been detained; Sgt Richard Caulker said no. The defense counsel asked if the councillor was therefore free to go; Sgt Caulker said no. So the defense counsel pointed out that this was a very confusing situation; the councillor was not detained but was not free to go.

Corp Fofanah was asked why given that Councillor Turay was detained for 12 hours, after Mayor Aki-Sawyer had departed with the Air France flight, the Police failed to take a statement from Councillor Turay. Corp Fofanah’s response was that the Police were unable to take a statement from Councillor Turay because Mayor Aki-Sawyer had instructed him not to give a statement. At this point Defense Counsel handed over to Corp Fofanah her written witness statement and asked her to show the court where she had stated this. After going through all the pages of her witness statement, Corp Fofanah confirmed that this assertion was not in her signed witness statement.

Defence Counsel asked Sgt Caulker, if he had given his phone to Councillor Turay to make a phone call, following his arrest and whether this was consistent with Police procedures. He response was yes, to both questions. Defense Counsel also asked Sgt Caulker if he had allowed Councillor Turay to use his phone a second time, after Mayor Aki-Sawyer had departed. Mr Caulker answered yes.

Defence Counsel put it to Sgt Caulker that yes he did allow Councillor Turay to send a text message to Mayor Aki-Sawyer, to alert her that he was in possession of her suitcase because of a mix-up with the airline. The defense counsel also put it to Sgt Caulker that there was a cordial relationship between him and Councillor Turay which confirms that the councillor was not refusing to make a statement because in fact the police did not attempt to take a statement from the councillor until he was transferred to CID Headquarters in Freetown the next day.

Defence Counsel asked Mr Caulker – If Mayor Aki-Sawyer had been disruptive as the Police Officers had claimed, why did Mr Caulker permit Councillor Turay to use his phone to contact the Mayor after she had left the police station.

Sierra Leoneans need to pay close attention to this case, which has not been reported widely in the media, even though three sittings have been held. The harassment and intimidation of the mayor continues but this time with the risk of criminal conviction based on false testimonies.

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