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Abuse of two escapees reported — by other inmates within TCF

A look inside a cell at the new prison facility at the Territorial Correction Facility (TCF) in Tafuna.  [photo by AF]

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The beating and abuse of two inmates who escaped twice from prison this year is allegedly continuing inside the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) in Tafuna.

Samoa News received numerous phone calls last week — straight from some of the inmates inside the TCF, alleging that DPS police officers who are assigned to guard the two inmates, are keeping them cuffed at all times inside their cell — even when they eat and sleep.

Efforts to obtain a comment from the Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson last week were unsuccessful. Samoa News queried him via email, but he never replied. Phone calls were also made but Le’i didn’t answer his phone.

This: Despite Le’I’s many promises to Samoa News that he would never hide any information nor ignore anything the community wants to know about his department’s operations, and that he would be available at any time to give out information, it seems that is not the case right now.

The two inmates are Joe Togitogi and Joseph Iosefa Iakopo, according to inmates, who called Samoa News.

“Both their hands were handcuffed during the time they sleep and eat. They were also allegedly beaten badly by police officers two weeks ago and are not allowed to see their families,” according to one of the inmates.

Another inmate told Samoa News that the two inmates were sleeping on wet cement without a sheet, pillow or mat for the whole week right after tropical storm Gita last month.

“Some of the cells inside the prison including the cell where the two inmates are kept were wet and there was water on the floor. I saw it with my own eyes how the two inmates were treated, they slept on the wet floor without a mat, sheet or pillow for five days and I gave them two of my ie lavalava to cover the floor so that they could sleep well,” said the inmate.

According to a third inmate, the police officers from the Central substation and two firemen from the Fire Division who were assigned by the Police Commissioner to guard the two inmates are the ones who allegedly mistreated the two.

The inmate said that TCF guards told some of the inmates, that Le’i assigned police officers from the Fagatogo substation and a few firemen from the Fire Division to guard Togitogi and Iakopo — and TCF guards should not interfere.

The inmate said that despite the fact that the two inmates escaped from prison a number of times or even have been disrespectful to police officers, that doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated like this.

“They are human beings like these police officers and they do not deserve to be mistreated like this,” the inmate said.

“Inmates have rights under the Constitution and police officers do not have the power to ignore these inmates’ rights. Every time I see these police officers mistreating these two inmates, it breaks my heart because I have children at home and they are like my children.”

“I have footage of some of the alleged illegal events that were going on here at TCF, including the time when the two inmates were eating and sleeping while both of their hands were cuffed.

“I want someone out there to report these things to the FBI so that these police officers, who are responsible for the alleged abuse of these inmates, face the consequences for their action. We’ve been trying to seek help through lawyers from the Public Defender’s office when they came here to talk to us pertaining our cases, but it’s looking like nothing is happening.”

The inmate said that all inmates inside TCF are human beings just like the Police Commissioner and these police officers who are mistreating these poor inmates.

“Yes, we are criminals just like these two inmates and we are serving our time as a consequence of our actions, but that doesn’t mean police officers can treat these inmates like what they are allegedly doing right now. We’re seeking assistance from the government leaders or even the FBI to please do something to stop the mistreating of inmates, it’s a criminal act and it’s against the law.”

Le’i confirmed to Samoa News last month after Togitogi and Iakopo were found that the two inmates were no longer being housed in the same area from where they escaped.

He said that the two inmates are now being held in a secure area at TCF. They are no longer at the new prison facility, but locked up in a safe area to stop them from escaping again. Unfortunately, DPS has to put guards to work on day and night shifts to make sure they do not escape again.

Le’i also told Samoa News that he will not use guards at the TCF anymore to look after these inmates, but he will find ways to appoint police officers to fulfill this special task.

Samoa News reported on Mar. 2, 2018, that during his sentencing hearing before the High Court, Togitogi spent nearly 10 minutes sharing with the court, his story about the way prison guards treat inmates — including himself — everyday. According to Togitogi, the TCF guards beat the inmates and when the prisoners get injured, the guards don't take them to the hospital for treatment.

He said, “We don’t have any human rights, they just treat us like slaves. That’s the reason why I left the prison so many times, because I wanted to get some food for us.

“I was a very handsome young man before I was taken to prison a few years ago, but look at me right now, I’m ugly because I’ve been beaten up badly so many times by the prison guards. I lost a few teeth during the last beating, last month,” Togitogi said.

He also alleged the guards deny the inmates a chance to see their families during weekend visitations, to avoid the family members from knowing what's going on at TCF, as well as denying them access to their lawyers.

Presiding judge was Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea, who heard Togitogi’s plea, said at the time, “the conditions mentioned by the prisoner this morning is a concern to the court. The Judiciary is not in the business of looking into and imposing any kind of conditions relating to the operations of the correctional facility; that is up to the Executive Branch," adding that if the matter is presented in the form of a lawsuit to the court, then the Judiciary will step in.

“… but for now, Togitogi’s statement has not fallen on deaf ears. The court is going to order that the transcript of the defendant's proceedings be prepared by the court, certified, and forwarded to the AG and the legal counsel of American Samoa.

“It is our hope that the Executive Branch of the Government will act on this complaint and do something about it,” Patea concluded.