DPS leaders plead: Leave campaign signs alone!
Police Commissioner Tuaolo M. Fruean has asked the community not to damage political campaign signs and billboards and for anyone witnessing another person or persons damaging or vandalizing these signs to report it to the police.
Deputy Police Commissioner Leseiau Laumoli said the Department of Public Safety has received several complaints from candidates running for public office and from their supporters about campaign signs being damaged, defaced or vandalized by culprits at locations island wide.
“This is not a easy task for police investigating these complaints, because it appears that damaging or destroying campaign signs occurs at night,” Laumoli told Samoa News yesterday. “And by daylight, the damage is done — but trying to find the culprit or culprits becomes difficult, especially when there are no witnesses to question.”
“However, anyone caught or identified for taking such illegal actions will be fully investigated with a recommendation to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution in accordance with local law,” said Laumoli. “Destroying political signs will only cause problems among candidates and supporters during this election year, which is just not good for our small island territory.”
Campaign signs are installed on boards both small and large on private property, and when a person damages or destroys these signs, that person — if caught — may end up being charged with property damage and trespassing, says a member of the legal community, who didn’t want to be identified by name, but wanted to share information on possible charges when contacted by Samoa News.
“On behalf of Police Commissioner Tuaolo, I call on members of the community to please, leave the political campaign signs alone,” said Laumoli. “Leave the election issues for the candidates to address and for everyone to please keep our island territory with peace and harmony.”
There is no reason to damage political signs and there is nothing to be gained from it, said Laumoli, who also called on the community to report to police any person or persons seen damaging or defacing campaign signs for candidates - whether they are candidates for the gubernatorial, congressional or the local House races.
“Again, please leave the political signs alone,” he pleaded with the community.
The American Samoa statute governing billboards or signs is as confusing as the law governing the resignation of gubernatorial candidates from their positions, if they are government employees.
The local statute, under Sign Regulations, Section 26.0501 states: “Except as otherwise allowed or permitted in this chapter, it is unlawful to erect, maintain or display outdoors in American Samoa, any sign, including any billboard, ground sign, wall sign, roof sign, illuminated sign, projecting sign or display illustration, for the announcement or the advertisement of any business, product, service or event.”
Section 26.0502 of the statute outlines what is a permissible sign — that is allowed without permit — it does not include political signs or billboards, but does state that “signs erected and maintained by the Government of American Samoa or any agency or instrumentality thereof,” are allowed, as well as “temporary signs, which shall mean any sign, banner, pennant, or advertising display constructed of cloth, canvas, light fabric, cardboard, or other light material, and not to be displayed for more than 72 hours.”
Section 26.0503 — Permits for otherwise prohibited signs — states that “any sign otherwise prohibited by this chapter may be allowed by the government by the issuance of a special sign permit, for which a fee of $2 must be charged.” (It does not say if that is $2 per day, or just $2 to have a sign). Guidelines are outlined for what the government should consider “in the issuance of such special sign permits”, including the caveat that “Special sign permits are not to be issued indiscriminately, but only when the need for them is shown and the purpose to be served is a worthy one.”
Enforcement of the statute resides with the governor, who “may delegate the administration and enforcement of this chapter to such official, officials or agency of the Government as may from time to time appear best suited for such task.”
The Violation-Penalty section states that it is a class C misdemeanor in determining the fine, and should be charged for each day such sign continues in violation of the law.
Persons responsible for signs, and would be held responsible for the fine the statute states is “any person, which term shall include any corporation, partnership, association, or organization of any kind, who erects, maintains or displays, or who permits upon property owned or controlled by him or it the erection, maintenance or display of a sign, is responsible for that sign.”
Concerning the defacing of political billboards, as one of the five teams running in the local 2012 gubernatorial race, said their signs or billboards “are put up ONLY after we have obtained the permission from the families or the landowners.” They also noted that “the power of our people to vote for their choice of leadership is one of the most sacred and fundamental powers protected under our laws and the constitution. People need to understand that even billboards are an expression of political speech that is protected under the laws.”