Alleged cop cover-up in Leone shooting case — one man charged
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An inmate serving time at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) is now charged in connection with the alleged shooting that occurred in Leone two weeks ago, which resulted in a male being hospitalized for gunshot wounds above his right knee and in the left hip.
Manu Lefatia is the first suspect to be identified and charged. Samoa News understands police are still looking for the second suspect.
Lefatia made his initial appearance in District Court yesterday morning. He is facing seven charges, including 2 counts of 1st degree assault, a class A felony; one count of 1st degree attempted murder, a class B felony; 2 counts of unlawful use of a weapon and one count of escape from confinement, both class D felonies; and one count of unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon, a class A misdemeanor.
District Court Judge Fiti Sunia has set bail at $65,000 and Lefatia will appear in court again this morning for his preliminary examination (PX).
He is being represented by Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson while Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly is prosecuting.
The government claims that it was around 4:40a.m. on Aug. 12, 2018 when a DPS lieutenant contacted the lead investigator for this case, to inform him about the Leone shooting and that the primary suspect was a TCF inmate.
When the lead investigator arrived at the TCF, he was told that one of the eyewitnesses, who was also the second victim, was being escorted by Patrol officers to TCF for a line-up to confirm the identity of the primary suspect, as well as the second suspect who is alleged to have accompanied the primary suspect during the alleged shooting.
The witness/ victim #2 identified Lefatia as the alleged shooter, but was unable to identify the second suspect.
The lead investigator spoke to victim #1 at the LBJ Hospital on the same morning of the incident, and victim #1 also identified Lefatia as the shooter.
According to the government, the two victims in this case are also the eyewitnesses and they are brothers. The younger of the two was wounded during the alleged shooting but the older one was not.
The elder brother told cops what the alleged shooter and suspect #2 were wearing.
Police officers searched Lefatia’s TCF cell and found clothing — hidden underneath his bed in a laundry basket — and they were wet, and had mud skid marks and grass stuck to it.
The clothing matched the description given to police by the older of the two brothers.
The investigation included statements from those who were on the TCF morning watch when the alleged incident occurred. But according to the statements, Lefatia was in his cell the entire evening.
The government claims the lead investigator overheard the TCF Watch Commander, saying Lefatia didn’t go anywhere. The TCF Watch Commander had 3 TCF officers under his watch the day the alleged incident occurred.
However, according to the court affidavit, a TCF officer who was on the morning shift informed investigators about a cover-up. According to him, when officers at the TCF checked Lefatia’s cell around 3:30a.m., Lefatia was not there, but all conspired to “stick to the story” that Lefatia was in his cell throughout the night and morning.
The elder brother told the lead investigator that sometime around 3:00a.m. on the day of the shooting, he was in his house, only a few feet from his younger brother's home when he heard dogs barking outside.
He said he came out to see what was going on and that's when he saw one shirtless male standing on his lawn facing his brother's house. He provided a physical description of the man and added that he could not speak Samoan very well.
The older brother said he asked the man if he needed anything, to which the man responded, "We're looking for Sopi". When the older brother asked the man to identify himself, he answered, "I'm Ano from inside TCF."
The older brother said he noticed a second man almost crouched down by his brother's car near a dark area. The older brother identified the second man as Manu Lefatia.
The older brother told police he then called his younger brother via cell phone to tell him he had inmates outside his home asking for him. He said he was still in his yard standing near "Ano" when his younger brother opened the door and came out. That's when, according to the older brother, Lefatia came out from behind the cover of the vehicle, raised what appeared to be a revolver and asked, "Ua li Sopi?" before he started shooting.
The older brother said he heard his younger brother yell, "Manu, it wasn't me". He claims Lefatia took three shots at his younger brother. According to the older brother, Lefatia turned towards him and instructed him to come stand in front of him. He said he didn't move and Lefatia then motioned his firearm towards him. It was at that time the elder brother ran inside his house but heard two rounds fired at him.
While in his house, the elder brother said he looked out and observed Lefatia turning towards his younger brother and firing another round at him.
After the shooting, the elder brother said he saw Lefatia and “Ano” make their way back towards the main road. He said he observed a silver vehicle that resembled a “Cube” pass the end of the road. A few moments later, he heard a car speed off on the dirt.
Aside from the elder brother’s statement to police, surveillance footage from the DOE building at Tafuna, near the TCF was obtained by police to help with their investigation. The footage provided some clue that there was movement inside the TCF compound prior to the shooting.
Police were able to question some TCF officers regarding the matter.
The first TCF officer told police that contrary to the statement made by their Watch Commander, when Lefatia’s cell was checked at around 3:30a.m, he was not inside. Lefatia was found later at around 3:45am outside his cell. The TCF officer told police that it was him and another TCF officer who re-secured Lefatia back into his cell.
The TCF officer further told police that aside from the initial count conducted at 11:00 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2018, no other head count was done until they were instructed to do a count at around 3:30a.m. Furthermore, the TCF officer told police that there were holes in the fence by the Bravo Unit that led outside into the impound lot to the south of TCF.
The statements were echoed by a second TCF officer who added that there was instruction to attempt to cover up the escape. The second TCF officer told police that when he and two other TCF officers checked out Lefatia’s cell around 3:30a.m., he was not there.
He also confirmed to police that there was a hole in the fence outside of Bravo Unit, and a couple of TCF trustees helped him and another TCF officer repair the fence.
A third TCF officer was questioned by police, and she informed officers that she only logs down transmissions from her co-workers who are the ones physically checking the inmates’ cells. According to the third officer, she was informed by her Watch Commander that Lefatia had been in his cell the entire night and morning prior to Aug. 11-12, 2018.
A fourth TCF officer was interviewed by police and stated that there was an agreement to “stick to the same story”.
Police officers did interview some of the inmates, who said they knew nothing about the escape.
When police interviewed victim #1 at the LBJ, the man identified Lefatia as the shooter; and when asked if there was reason why Lefatia would want to hurt him, the victim said the only thing he can think of, is that a week prior, he was asked by a male friend to pick up his girlfriend and bring her to him. He said he did so, dropping the girl off to his friend's home in Vaitogi.
The victim said he later found out that the girl he picked up and dropped off was the mother of Lefatia’s young child.
Lefatia did not wish to make a statement to police about this case.