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C J: Outcome could have been worse if cops armed

Speaking hypothetically, Chief Justice Michael Kruse says a defendant who was accused of swinging a tire iron at a police officer might not be sitting in court for sentencing if the Police Commissioner’s move to have police officers armed was in effect when the confrontation took place early last year.


Kruse, who made the comments during the sentencing of Afa Te'o last month, also suggested that police officers learn from the District Court the “A-B-C” of the law and what they can do when responding to a melee, according to the court transcript of Te’o’s sentencing on Mar. 28.


Te’o was originally charged with second-degree assault, resisting arrest or interfering with an arrest, and public peace disturbance. The charges stemmed from an incident in February last year when police responded to a fight around the ASCC area.


Before the defendant went on trial last month, the government withdrew the 'interfering with arrest' charge. The defendant was then convicted by a jury of misdemeanor public peace disturbance, punishable by up to six months in prison, and/or a fine of up to $500. Te’o was represented by Public Defender Douglas Fiaui, while prosecuting was Assistant Attorney General Tony Graf.


Durning Te’o’s sentencing, Kruse said one disturbing take the judges had on the evidence and proceedings is that “there was some... exact misunderstanding of the law, not only by police witnesses” who took the stand, but by attorneys on both sides.


He said it was quite apparent from police that they weren’t sure what they could do in the melee situation that occurred. “It appeared that since they were called to an assault and since they didn’t see the assault because it had already happened, some of [them] felt that there was nothing they could do,” he said.


And during trial, “Defense made a big speil about, ‘Did you have a warrant? Did you have authority to arrest?’ And police had no idea how to respond,” Kruse said and noted that the government’s attorney “withdrew a poignant, a very relevant charge of interfering with the police making an arrest.”


He pointed out “…as young junior lawyers in District Court before Judge [John] Ward will tell you — No,” and noted that in “a riot situation, unlawful assembly situation, refuse to disperse situation — although misdemeanors — if the police on site make their common sense practical consideration, they had every right to arrest people who wouldn’t disperse.”


According to the chief justice, the defendant interfered with police doing their lawful duty. In Te'o's testimony during trial, he said was doing the “mea sa’o”, or the right thing.


“Where does he get off telling the police what is ‘mea sa’o? Where does he get off telling the judges the ‘mea sa’o? Where did he go to law school?,” asked Kruse.


He went on to say that the judges “take judicial notice of the humbug that the school kids cause society with their continuous fighting. And it becomes quite obvious that one of the problems is, police are not in tune as to what they can do.”


“The defense made a big deal about ‘no arrest being made’. And we suppose the implication is if there was no arrest made then it means there were no crimes being committed,” the CJ said.


“But from the judges' assessment of the picture, the only person with brains on site was the senior [police] officer. He made a decision, ‘Come back, officers, we’ve got a riotous assembly here. We’ve got a rebellious defendant here with a tire iron’,” he said recalling the senior officer’s statements on record.


Kruse then took note — referring to a hypothetical situation — as to what may have happened if the police officers had been armed — as is currently being proposed by Police Commissioner William Haleck (and supported by the governor).


He said, "One scary scenario we had… was of the [Police] Commissioner’s desire for officers to carry guns on that day [of the incident]… this defendant may well not be sitting [in the court room],” and told the defendant, “You will meet deadly force with deadly force”.


Kruse sentenced Te’o to six months in jail and a $500 fine, and told the defendant, “If we had more to give you, we would give you that.”


The CJ then turned his attention to the government prosecutor, saying “I suggest you take the patrol officers... get your colleagues that practice before Judge Ward — he’s handling all these bus [rock throwing] cases — and get some A-B-Cs on what the police are entitled to do” when responding to a melee.


“We don’t pay the police very much. We’re not going to tolerate anarchy,” said the Chief Justice, according to court transcripts.