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Probable cause found against two TCF officers

reporters@samoanews.com

Police officers Rocky Tua and Fiti Aina charged on allegations they allowed inmates to go to the store for beer, food and phone card runs is now bound over to the High Court.

The police officers exercised their rights to a preliminary examination hearing Thursday afternoon where District Court Judge John Ward found there was probable cause the alleged crimes of aiding the escape of a prisoner, permitting escape of prisoner, and public servant acceding to corruption be bound over to the High Court.  

The officers were arraigned yesterday morning before Chief Justice Michael Kruse.

Each count against the officers are class D felonies which are punishable by up to five years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.

Officer Aina is represented by Fiti Sunia while Mataiupevao Leupolu is representing Officer Tua. Prosecuting the case is Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop. During the preliminary examination, the lead investigating officer, Detective Poutoa I'amanu, Jr., was the government’s main and only witness who testified on this case. I'amanu told the court following their police raid on July 20, 2012, at the Territorial Correctional Facility, where beer was found in one of the cells, he was assigned to investigate how the beer made its way into the correctional facility.

The detective said during his investigation, an inmate Tagaleo'o Tagaleo'o told him that the day before the police raid, Officer Tua sent him to buy beer, phone cards, cookies and sodas with money from another inmate. Det. I’amanu said other inmates told him the same story.

In his testimony, Det. I’amanu alleges that Officer Aina and other inmates drank the beer while Officer Tua took the phone cards, cookies, and sodas. He further stated that inmate Tagaleo’o told him he was sent by officer Tua to the store and while there, he saw another inmate also buying beer under Officer Tua's instructions.

Deputy AG Jessop asked the detective if police officers are authorized to allow inmates to leave the jail, the Detective replied that police officers or correction officers do not have the authority — whatsoever — to let out inmates while incarcerated.

He added that Tagaleo'o is serving a 40-month sentence for felony assault and the court ordered that he not be released from jail unless by court order or for a genuine medical emergency.

Both defense attorneys argued to dismiss all the charges against their clients.

In their arguments, Leupolu and Sunia told the court the government did not meet probable cause on the charges of aiding the escape of a prisoner and permitting escape of prisoner, given that the inmates did not escape, but rather they went to the store and returned.

On the charges of public servant acceding to corruption, both lawyers also contend their clients did not receive any benefits from the alleged crime and this charge should also be dismissed.

Deputy AG Jessop told the court the evidence and testimony of the investigating officer is clear that the two Correction Officers broke the law by allowing inmates to leave TCF for a beer run and the officers are not authorized to do that.

She added that the officers are paid by the government to guard the jail and the inmates inside the jail, however the defendants allowed the inmates to go to the store and the officers both received benefits from breaking the law such as getting beer, phone cars and food.

Judge Ward bound the case over to the High Court saying there is probable cause to believe the defendants may have committed the alleged crimes.

He told the defense lawyers to bring the issue of what constitutes “escape” to the High Court during pre-trial conferences, noting there is no legal definition of escape in the local statutes.

The officers who were arraigned yesterday morning, entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them.

Both defense counsels asked the High Court to schedule the pre-trial conference after 60 days. Chief Justice Michael Kruse set December 17, 2012, for the PTC and also the cutoff date to file pre-trial motions and plea agreements.



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