Authorities in Kenya say six police officers have been detained for neglect of duty after six men died in a jail cell while in police custody. Three prisoners are also being held for the murder of their cellmates.

Three men appeared in a Nairobi court Wednesday, charged with the murder of six fellow inmates in Thika police station, 40 kilometers outside the capital, Nairobi. News reports say two of the accused were being held for other, unrelated murder charges.

Kenyan police claim the six victims were battered to death when a fight broke out in the cell on Sunday night.

According to news reports, one of the surviving inmates says the fight broke out because the cell was extremely overcrowded. The inmate claims the 38 prisoners were barely able to breathe.

Six police officers also appeared in court Wednesday, charged with negligence and poor performance of duty.

Police spokesman Peter Kimanthi says they are under investigation for allowing the prisoners to have weapons inside the cell. "We want to find out how they were allowed to enter the cells with their weapons," said the spokesman. "There were shoes and a shoe can kill. There was evidence that there was a bottle that was inside the cell and a few other items. That is part of the negligence with which we are charging the police officers. It was against the regulations," he said.

The witness also alleges that the police heard the screaming from the fight. He claims they simply threw in a bucketful of cold water and told the prisoners to be quiet.

Mr. Kimanthi says he cannot understand why the cell was so overcrowded. "Overcrowding is not a problem. It is something we can handle. We are filing charges against officers who were on duty when this took place and one of the areas we are looking at is the reason behind the overcrowding," according to Mr. Kimanthi.

But Kenya's Parliamentary Standing Commission on Human Rights says overcrowding is a common problem. It describes the conditions in most police cells as uninhabitable and inhuman. The Commission says urgent correctional measures need to be taken.