Case against TCF officer is set for pretrial conference
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — District Court Judge, Fiti Sunia has dismissed the felony charge against one of the 3 TCF officers, charged in connection with the shooting that occurred in Leone last month — allegedly involving an inmate who is believed to have escaped from confinement — which resulted in a male being hospitalized for gunshot wounds, after the government opted not to call any witnesses during the preliminary examination (PX) hearing yesterday afternoon.
DPS officer Viopapa Vitolio, who is out on a $2,000 cash bond is charged with tampering with public record, a class C felony, punishable by up to 7 years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both; and conspiracy to tamper with public records, a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Vitolio, who was responsible for keeping the log for the night/ morning of the alleged incident, appeared in court yesterday afternoon for her PX. She is represented by Richard Desaulles of RDA Law Firm, while prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly.
When Vitolio’s case was called, Sunia asked the government if they were ready for the PX and Pengelly said yes.
When Sunia told the government to call their witnesses, Pengelly informed the court that they were not calling any.
Sunia acknowledged the government’s move, saying the purpose of the PX is for the court to determine whether there is probable cause to bind the defendant’s case over to High Court for further proceedings.
“After hearing the government’s statement, the court is unable to find probable cause to bind over the felony charge against the defendant; therefore, the felony charge is dismissed without prejudice,” Sunia said.
Pengelly immediately asked the court to schedule the defendant’s pretrial conference (PTC) for the misdemeanor charge for the next 3 weeks, to give the government more time to finalize their investigations.
Sunia granted the request and scheduled Vitolio’s PTC for Oct. 4, 2018.
THE GOVERNMENT'S CASE
The government claims that Vitolio was one of the 5 TCF officers working on the morning watch on Aug. 12, 2018, during the time inmate Manu Lefatia allegedly escaped from confinement and shot a man in Leone last month.
The five-member TCF crew working the morning watch on the day of the incident were all interviewed by police, during the police investigation of the incident, where discrepancies were allegedly found between officers accounts of when checks on inmates’ cells were made.
Vitolio, who provided a statement to police regarding the incident, said she only logs down transmissions from her co-workers who are the ones physically checking the inmates' cells.
Police reviewed the TCF logs for the morning of Aug. 12 and saw that there were head counts on the hour and between Aug. 11, 2018 at 11p.m and 3a.m on Aug. 12, which indicate that all inmates were in their cells.
Police also printed copies of the TCF morning watch log to compare with the officers' statements.
The government alleges that changes were made to the TCF log to reflect that there were head counts made on the hour. However, other TCF officers told investigators that there were no head counts made until they received the call from Foifua to check Lefatia’s cell to see whether he was inside or not.