American Samoa Police Commissioner Allegedly Had Shooting Evidence Deleted

Trial of men accused of shooting at Leone police substation continues

Samoa News staff translation

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 5, 2016) – In a new twist in the government’s case against four men accused of shooting at the Leone police substation two years ago, a police detective testified that he was told by Police Commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele to erase some information from the police report on the shooting.

However, the High Court has ruled that the jury trial will go on as scheduled tomorrow; and the court also dismissed new motions by defense attorneys including one which seeks to have a new court-appointed attorney for one of the accused.

The four men accused in the shooting are Manu Lefatia, Sinapati Tuufa’anatu, Tuliese Taliu and Mosegi Solia Jr. They remain in custody unable to post bail.

During a hearing last Thursday afternoon, Police Det. Savelio Vaofanua was called to the witness stand and was questioned on why some witness statements have been erased from the police report. Defense attorneys have insisted that the government didn’t provide all information in their police report because some of the pages were either erased or removed.

Vaofanua testified under oath that it was the Police Commissioner who directed him and other officers involved in the investigation to erase some of the written evidence on the police report. Asked by assistant attorney general Gerald Murphy as to why the police commissioner gave the directive, Vaofanua says it was to protect the confidential informant who provided the written statement.

Based on court information, the information on the police report that was erased included the informant’s name and signature. The informant is alleged to have knowledge of the November 2014 shooting of the substation and the information was given to police.

Vaofanua’s testimony is a contradiction to Police Commissioner Save’s testimony two weeks ago, when he was called to the stand, during one of the many hearings on this case. Save said he doesn’t know why and has no idea as to why some of the information on the police report was erased.

During last Thursday’s court hearing, it was revealed that four pages containing written witnesses statements against the defendants, have had some of the information erased.

Vaofanua testified that he and seven police investigators worked together in investigating the shooting. Murphy asked again, as to who directed him to erase statements and evidence on the police report and Vaofanua replied, “the police commissioner.”

One of the defense attorneys, assistant public defender, Michael White asked to identify the police commissioner by name to which Vaofanua said, “Save Liuato [Tuitele].” White asked if the witness was sure it was Save and not the previous police commissioner, William B. Haleck, to which Vaofanua replied that it’s clear in his memory and mind that it was “Police Commissioner Save” who gave the directive.

After Vaofanua’s questioning, defense attorneys move to dismiss all charges against the four defendants arguing that it’s clear from the government witnesses that the government itself was responsible for erasing and removing pertinent statements from the police report.

However, Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea said the court believes such a decision should be left to a jury, adding that the government may have its reasons for erasing portions of the police report, and the answers should be made known during the trial.

Patea also dismissed other new motions by the defense including suppressing police evidence which surfaced during their investigation and a statement by one of the defendants given to police. Patea also ruled from the bench on a motion by assistant public defender Karen Shelly, for a new court-appointed attorney for defendant Tu’ufa’anatu.

Shelly told the court that her ASG employment contact ends Dec. 12 and because the trial is expected to last more than two weeks, she requested a court-appointed attorney for Tu’ufa’anatu because she would be leaving the territory once her employment contract expires.

Patea pointed out that under the law, which guides the work of the court, the only reason that a new defense attorney is appointed is when a defendant requests it. Patea also said the request — which Shelly made last week — should have been made a long time ago but not days before the case goes to trial.

Trial for the four accused gets underway at 9a.m. tomorrow with the selection of a jury panel. It’s unclear at this point as to when the jury selection process is completed and when opening arguments will begin.

(Original Samoan story in Lali section of last Friday’s edition and today’s edition of Samoa News.)

The Samoa News
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