CHARGES REDUCED AGAINST PAGO POLICEMAN

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Sauni allegedly stole guns from evidence room

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, July 21, 2009) - The Attorney General’s Office has amended the criminal complaint against Jerry Sauni, reducing several felony charges to misdemeanors.

Sauni, who was the Evidence Custodian for the DPS Evidence Room from March 2008, was charged last month with five other officers in the missing evidence case, appeared yesterday morning in the High Court for his hearing.

He was originally charged with 40-plus counts in the criminal complaint, all of which were felonies.

During yesterday’s hearing, Sauni’s defense attorney, Mark Ude waived the official reading of the charges against his client and Assistant Attorney General Lisa Johns noted that the government has amended its original complaint for certain counts down to misdemeanors.

Ude told the court he has received the amended motion but has not yet had a chance to discuss it with his client. Chief Justice F. Michael Kruse continued the hearing to July 27.

In addition to Sauni, five other officers were charged: Michael Fuiava Jr., Patrick Nomura, Misi Leo, Lealofi Salatielu and taxi driver Onosa’i Aulava, a relative to Sauni.

In the original complaint, the government charged Sauni with 12 counts of possession of a prohibited weapon, each count a class B felony, punishable by seven years in jail, a fine of US$5,000, or both.

Under the new amendment motion, for the weapon possession charges, the government has now charged the defendant with a class A misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to one year, a fine of US$1,000, or both.

Other felony charges against the defendant remain in place such as the 12 counts of embezzlement; 12 counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence; and one count of criminal fraud.

Sauni had the sole key to the Drug Room within the Evidence Room, where all the sensitive items such as controlled substances, cash, drug paraphernalia, firearms, and ammunition are kept, according to the court affidavit.

A written admission by Sauni to the Criminal Investigation & Intelligence Bureau (CIIB) stated he removed five firearms from the evidence room and provided those firearms to himself, Nomura, Fuiava Jr., Leo and Aulava. The firearms have since been recovered, the affidavit states.

When interviewed, Sauni allegedly admitted the evidence room was broken in to -- to recover the room’s keys locked inside. The third incident, when Salatielu lost his keys to the evidence room, they cut the padlock that secured the metal gate door and pried the face boards off the front entrance door to pick the door knob locking mechanism.

Officers involved in the break-ins were Salatielu, Fuiava Jr., Nomura and Sauni, the case alleges. As a result of this, in early 2009, Sauni had to obtain a new padlock to secure the metal gate door of the evidence room.

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