Officer Testifies Satapuala Villagers Fired At Samoa Police

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Witnesses describe chaotic situation during 2012 roadblock

By Lanuola Tupufia

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, May 2, 2013) – The Member of Parliament for A’ana Alofi No. 3, Toesulusulu Cedric Shuster, and village mayor Ga Sakalia, are among 18 villagers who appeared at Samoa’s District Court on Monday charged in connection with a roadblock skirmish with the Police last year.

Toesulusulu is charged with fifteen counts of unlawful behavior including unlawful assembly, seven of breaching the peace, and seven of resisting and misleading the Police.

The other villagers are charged with unlawful assembly, uttering insulting words, resisting the Police, and in breach of the peace.

The trial emanated from a staged roadblock manned by village matai and untitled men near Faleolo Airport to which armed Police were summoned to the clear road.

Justice Vaepule Vaemoa Va’ai is presiding. The defense lawyers are Tuala Karanita Enari and Papali’i Lio Masipau. Prosecutors are Precious Chang and Leinafo Taimalelagi of the Attorney General’s office.

Yesterday Constable Junior Afereti gave his evidence.

He told the court that when the Police arrived in the village on 16 August last year, rocks were piling up on the road and then a gunshot was heard.

Afereti said the first gunshot came from one of the villagers. "I heard one gunshot that came from the village side and then the Police fired warning shots."

The officer disputed suggestions that Toesulusulu tried to calm the villagers.

He told the court: "The MP only called out to the villagers to be patient and let the Policemen do their job, when he saw that the Police were not backing down. But he did not the first time when we tried to remove the stones."

Asked by Papali’i if he agreed that the "MP did his job when he said to the villagers to be patient," Afereti said he did not. "I did not say in my statement that the MP did his job. There was panicking during that time and what I said in my evidence was that afterwards, Toesulusulu told the villagers to be patient."

Asked by Tuala who fired the first gunshot, Afereti said it was the one of the villagers.

Tuala also asked Afereti if it was only the Special Response Unit (SRU) who were armed with guns, he said no.

He explained that other Police officers were also armed.

"I heard the first gunshot and it came from the village side," Afereti told the court. "That was when the Police fired off warning shots.

"I said in my statement that the SRU were armed."

But Tuala pointed out that in photos referred to as evidence, some "policemen who were in uniform were also armed."

Also asked by Tuala if there was one gunshot he had heard when the Police fired off other shots, Afereti agreed.

On Monday, Constable Turo Tamaseu told the court that the roadblock was staged on the four intersections at Satapuala, shortly before the airport.

He told the court "the first person I saw when we arrived was Akeripa with other people of the village.

"I know Akeripa from previous matters where I dealt with him," he said. "They were trying to oppose the Police and told us not to remove the stones.

"At the same time he kept on walking from one side of the road to the other, and an untitled man uttered unpleasant words towards us while others, were throwing stones and calling out to attack us."

According to Constable Tamaseu, as Police officers were trying to remove the rocks, (the villagers) kept on calling out to us not to remove the stones.

But all we were doing "was trying to clear the road."

He said: "Some were screaming at us saying we have no right over the land which belonged to Satapuala. I saw that others were trying to hold back Laumata (the untitled man) from us."

During cross-examination, Ms. Taimalelagi asked Tamaseu how he felt during the time the men were calling out to them.

In response, Tamaseu said he just felt happy.

He added: "I felt happy to be able to do my job and I felt God’s presence with me."

Asked again how he felt about the way Akeripa acted towards him, the officer replied "I was calm."

That was when Tuala interjected and told the Judge that "the line of questioning made it sound as if Akeripa was pushing (the officer) but in fact there was no contact." Tamaseu confirmed there was "no contact." They were "just words."

He told the court that he was also aware that the MP Toeolesulusulu was there at the time of the roadblock.

"He told me not to remove the stones," he said. "There needs to be reconciliation."

Asked by Ms. Taimalelagi if Toeolesulusulu was trying to calm the village, Tamaseu said no.

"There were no actions by him trying to calm them," Tamseu said. "He just called out to us saying not to remove the stones."

Other villagers who are charged are Muagututia Akeripa Toleapai, Vaili Mimita, Ga Sakalia, Iliolemalae Faga, Samuelu Mauga, Fa’amatala Aukuso, Pau Tavita, Lesi Samoa Faga, Sami Ili, Amosa Maini, Samuelu Lagalaga, Tomasi Ilioletutu, Lasei Sione, Ukaiaiga Aigafa’alagilagi Faleupolu, Lua Aiga, Tagi Fifita and one woman, Toese Punavai.

The roadblock stemmed from a clash caused by a long-standing land dispute between Satapuala and the government. The hearing continues today.

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