Update: No arrests yet in Samoa drug raid in Faleatiu
Samoa Assistant Police Commissioner Leaupepe Fatu Pula has identified the three police officers who were wounded by gunshot during a police raid early Monday morning as Sergeant Lemalu Upumoni of Lefaga and Lotopa, Constable Solomona Tuagalilo of Leauva’a and Constable Toso Talatonu of Lefaga and Tufulele.
In an interview with Samoa News, Leaupepe, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Police, said the officers are recovering. He said Sgt Upumoni was released from the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital Tuesday; however Constable Talatonu and Constable Tuagalilo remain in the hospital for further treatment.
The Ass’t Commissioner said Constable Solomona sustained injuries on both hands and wounds in his chest, while Constable Talatonu was injured in his arms and legs.
Leaupepe told Samoa News more than 30 armed police officers went to execute the search warrant on the property of Talimatasi Sauvale in Faleatiu, but before the officers were able to execute the warrant they were being shot at.
The drug raid was carried out early Monday morning around 6 a.m. and before the police vehicles reached the home, someone (or more than one person) was shooting at the officers, he reported.
“The three police officers that were in the lead vehicle were wounded, and fell off the truck” while the other police vehicles that were following had to pull back,” he said.
“The police officers shot back when they went back to rescue the officers that were injured and after retrieving the injured officers, the senior police officers made the call to discontinue the raid and return to post,” Leaupepe stated.
He said the officers were armed for their protection and this was done after seeking approval from police officials, and added that police officers are trained to carry guns for protection, however more training is needed in this specific area.
The Ass’t Commissioner said after several incidents where police officers were injured, and a few have died in the line of duty, the Ministry of Police sought assistance from China’s Aid to provide Samoa’s police with bullet-proof vests.
“Sadly,” he said, “we are still waiting for them, although the request was sent over half a year now… Having bullet proof vests would help the police officers carry out their duties with much more confidence.”
The Ass’t Commissioner said no arrests have been made since the incident, however investigations are continuing — given that a man lost his life from this incident.
Leaupepe identified the man, who died in the inicident, as 31-year old Samitoto Lapi. The Assistant Commissioner said the late Mr Lapi had numerous outstanding warrants with police, nonetheless the police will carry out a thorough investigation into this case. “We are taking this investigation one step at a time.”
He told Samoa News that he wants to make it clear that the Samoa Police will not back off from the fight of removing illegal drugs from the streets of Samoa, however tomorrow is another day (E oso pea le la).
Leaupepe said close to ten police vehicles were used during the raid in Faleatiu, and two suffered numerous damages as a result of the gun exchange.
“Close to $50,000 is needed to repair to the bodies of the police cars. The engine doesn’t work in one car, after a bullet went through it,” he said.
The Ass’t Commission said family members of the late Mr Lapi have filed complaints with the police, accusing officers involved in the raid with police brutality, and saying the police officers opened fire on everyone near the area where the incident occurred.
Leaupepe said the complaints are not valid, that the police officers backed off after they were shot at. “The cops are not stupid to just open fire on everyone and anyone around.”