Former police officer, on probation, back in court on assault charges
A former police officer, John Tialavea is being held behind bars on $20,000 bail, on charges of first degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon, both felonies. Tialavea made his initial appearance in District Court yesterday morning.
He is currently on probation with the District Court on a Public Peace Disturbance matter from Amouli last year over a land dispute.
The assault charge is a class A felony which is punishable from 10 to 30 years, while the weapon count is a class D felony which carries a jail term of up to five years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
According to the government’s case, the incident allegedly occurred last year in May. The day of the incident, police officers at the East Substation received a call from a woman claiming that Tialavea had shot at her with a shotgun. Police Officer Pese was assigned to investigate.
Upon arriving at the scene police officers were informed by the woman who had contacted police that there is an ongoing land dispute between her family and the defendant. Court filings say, the woman and her son were working on said land, when Tialavea allegedly shot at them to scare them off.
“Tialavea shot several gunshots, which she heard hitting the coconuts and banana trees. She estimated she heard 3-4 (gun) shots fired by Tialavea,” say court files.
The government claims, during the course of the investigation police spoke to the woman’s son, who told police they went to the plantation that Saturday as usual to clean up the land and he saw smoke coming from the other side of the land. Upon walking over to where the fire was, they alleged that Tialavea and his wife were there, burning grass.
Court filings say, that Tialavea (allegedly) began yelling profanities and telling the boy and his mother to leave the land. The boy told police he paid no attention to Tialavea and then he heard the defendant calling out to his son, to fetch his gun “and subsequently saw Tialavea take the shotgun, point it at him and his mother and start shooting at them.”
It's alleged that Tialavea was about 40-feet away from the boy and his mother. The boy further told police that his five-year-old sister, who was present at the time of the incident, was crying due to the shots fired.
Court documents say the defendant stated to police that he was on probation and that not possessing a firearm was one of the conditions of his probation. The defendant also allegedly stated that he had not registered any firearms with the Department of Public Safety. It’s unclear at this time if the police confiscated the gun in question, as efforts to obtain confirmation from the prosecutor have yet to be answered.
In June 2009, Tialavea, who was then a police officer, was charged for beating a Pago Pago man with his flashlight in front of a Pago nightclub, and for that assault he was sentenced to one year in prison. In that case, he was initially charged with first degree assault however he was convicted by a jury of misdemeanor assault.
Tialavea’s attorney at the time, Salanoe Aumoeualogo, said his client had been punched by the victim and noted the defendant has two children and was recently selected by Amouli village to serve as village mayor.
He added the incident occurred while Tialavea was trying to “enforce the law of American Samoa" and asked that any prison term from the court be suspended. The one year prison sentence handed down by the court is what was recommended by then Assistant Attorney General Lisa Teesch-Maguire. She said Tialavea and others in the police department think it is okay to brutalize members of the public.
Before handing down the judgment and sentence, Chief Justice Michael Kruse said Tialavea had been “baited” by the victim and the officer, rather than acting like an officer, chose to “cause hurt to the victim in the worst way possible.” He noted the victim was not without fault as he was obnoxious and was drinking in public.
“He was looking for a fight but he picked the wrong officer to fight with,” said Kruse. But, he added, Tialavea should not have taken the actions he did, and had to be restrained by other police officers who were there.
Kruse sentenced the officer to a term of imprisonment for one year— “a straight sentence.”