Church minister from Samoa charged with assault

Translated by Samoa News staff

A church minister from Samoa, who entered American Samoa last week on a 14-day permit, was taken into custody late Tuesday night for allegedly assaulting a male relative, during a beer drinking session.

Selesitino Teofilo is charged with two misdemeanor counts of third degree assault and public peace disturbance. Samoa News was able to confirm, through members of the defendant’s family, that Teofilo is a church minister from a village on the island of Savai’i, Samoa.

When Teofilo made his initial appearance Wednesday morning, District Court Judge Fiti A. Sunia told the defendant that the permit allowing him to enter American Samoa provides a good chance for Teofilo to visit the territory, but not a chance to “visit the court house.” The judge also noted that this is not the first time that these types of cases have landed in court, in which the person comes here to visit, but ends up in court for violating local laws.

Teofilo, through Assistant Public Defender Kate Hannaher, entered a not guilty plea to the misdemeanor counts, and the court has set another hearing for today, June 23, which is also the same date that the defendant — who came here for a family fa’alavelave — is scheduled to return to Samoa.

The Immigration officer who attended Wednesday’s court proceedings informed Sunia that Teofilo entered the territory last Friday, June 16, on a 14-day permit and is scheduled to return to Samoa on June 23.

Sunia agreed to release the defendant on his own recognizance but under several conditions. He is prohibited from consuming alcohol and making any contact with the alleged victim.

Sunia stressed to the defendant the importance of complying with conditions of his release set by the court, because violation of any of these conditions, means he will not be returning to Samoa today, but will be taken into custody.

The charges against Teofilo stem from an incident that occurred Tuesday night at the Auma area of Leone; and it was the victim who contacted police for assistance, saying that while at a family gathering, he was allegedly assaulted by several men who had been drinking beer with him.

According to court information, the police officer who spoke with the victim observed injuries to the victim’s mouth, chin, and knee.

The victim was treated by EMS personnel before providing a verbal statement to police.

According to the victim, he was visiting his wife’s relatives from Apia who came for a funeral and later that evening, they gathered “to have a few drinks.”

The victim, according to court information, had gone back and forth several times to a store to buy beer for the group. After returning from his last trip to the store, the victim alleges that he was confronted by a few family members and after a brief conversation he  decided to call it a night.

As he turned to make his way — leaving the hut, where they were drinking — the victim alleges that he “was ambushed by a man named Selestino and a few of his family members.” The victim told police that he tried to fight off Selestino after “being hit several times” which caused him to hit the ground.

After family members broke up the fight, the victim went home. The victim told police that when he got home “he did not feel well and that is when he decided to call police for assistance.”

The Tafuna police substation dispatched officers to assist with the case, searching for the individual(s) who were allegedly involved in the assault. Upon arrival at the scene, police met Teofilo, who was with another male relative, and Teofilo allegedly admitted getting into a fight with the victim.

When police asked about the others involved in the fight, the defendant allegedly told them that he acted alone and those who jumped in, were only there to break up the fight between him and the victim.

Teofilo was taken to the Leone substation where he was booked for public peace disturbance and third degree assault, according to court information, which also states that during the booking process, police “observed the suspect (Teofilo) to be under the influence of alcohol as could be observed [from] his slurred speech and alcohol being emitted from the suspect’s breath and body.”

It’s not immediately clear what the motive was, behind the assault.

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