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Cop arrested: Gov't alleges that he permitted escape, concealed offense

American Samoa District Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A police officer accused of permitting an inmate to leave his cell to go visit his girlfriend — and then staging his bed to make it appear as if he was sleeping — has been arrested and charged with permitting escape and concealing an offense — both class D felonies, punishable by 5 years imprisonment, a $5,000 fine or both for each count.

Tuluiga Richard Salanoa made his initial appearance in District Court yesterday morning. His next court appearance is scheduled for tomorrow. For now, he is remanded to custody with bail set at $10,000

According to the government's case, Salanoa allegedly permitted inmate Manu Lefatia to walk out of the holding cell in Fagatogo earlier this month, to visit his girlfriend for an hour.

"I felt sorry for him and that's why I allowed him to go see his girlfriend." This was Salanoa's alleged admission to investigators, according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.

The government's case hinges on the eyewitness testimonies of two other inmates being held at the holding cell in Fagatogo: Ioane Faimata and Muaina Povi; and also the alleged admission of Salanoa himself.

(Another police officer is also named in the affidavit but he is yet to be criminally charged).

Salanoa has been on the police force for about 15 months. On the night in question, he was ordered to guard the temporary holding cells (THC) in Fagatogo, located behind the DPS Records Office.

Samoa News understands that movements of the inmates held at the THC are to be recorded in a log book, per orders of Captain-in-Charge, Pou Supapo. The guards are to work 12-hour shifts and inmates are allowed to carry out clean-up duty in the immediate area. But this was only limited to inmates Povi and Faimata. Inmate Lefatia was only to be out of his cell to shower and eat.

On Mar. 3, 2019, according to the government's case, Officer Salanoa was assigned by his mother, night shift watch commander Lt. Arieta Salanoa, to guard the THC. Salanoa was scheduled for the morning shift, from 6a.m. - 2p.m. but he overlapped into the night shift, from 2 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Salanoa was set to be relieved by the crew on the morning shift. During the morning briefing session, the government alleges that Salanoa walked over to the DPS central station with the THC keys and log book in hand, and announced that "all the inmates at THC are secured and they are all sleeping," according to court documents. Salanoa then offered to take on the next shift, but a fellow cop told him to go get some rest, as he had worked two straight shifts. But Salanoa insisted.

He and two other cops then made their way to the THC. But Salanoa turned around and headed back to the Central Station. The other two cops continued on to the THC.

According to the criminal complaint, during an inspection of the cells, the two officers discovered that inmates Faimata and Povi were asleep in the same cell. But inmate Lefatia was "missing".

Higher ups in DPS were notified of the situation. As cops were positioned at the entrance/exit of the THC, they heard a "rustling" sound of leaves. They turned and saw Lefatia in the area between a family home and the concrete stairs in-line with the west wall of the THC. The cops saw Lefatia "maneuver his way through a gap in the wire fence affixed to the low-lying concrete wall. " Lefatia then "jumped down and walked" towards the cops.

When asked where he had been, Lefatia pointed towards the mountain and said, "Up there… visiting family." During a body search, cops found a phone concealed under Lefatia's boxers, "secured to his body by a flexible/elastic band/wrap."

Capt. Supapo is said to have approached Salanoa and asked how Lefatia "went missing" under his watch. Salanoa responded that he knew when Lefatia left, as he let him go because he felt sorry for him.

During subsequent questioning, Salanoa allegedly admitted that on Mar. 3, at about 9p.m, Lefatia asked permission to see his girlfriend in Fagatogo. Salanoa said that "out of an act of kindness," he agreed to let the inmate go, but told him he had to be back in his cell by 10 p.m.

When Lefatia left, Salanoa instructed inmate Faimata to "do exactly what I say." And that was, arrange (manipulate) Lefatia's bed and "make it look like someone is on it." In his written statement, Salanoa said "no bribe was involved." He said he tried to call Lefatia — because he was not back at the scheduled time — but the inmate didn't answer. He then called 2-3 more times…"but nothing".

According to Salanoa's statement to investigators, the reason why he did what he did, was because he was "just tired of everything." He said he knew that letting Lefatia out "would be wrong," but he isn't the type of person to judge others.

He said he was fed up with the way Capt. Supapo "unfairly treats him, and how she, on occasion, berates him in front of everybody." He said that what "broke the camel's back" was when Capt. Supapo "lambasted everyone in Patrol (including his mother, Lt. Salanoa) in his presence," the week before.

Salanoa was asked about a $100 alleged bribe and he denied it, saying Lefatia did offer him $60 at one point but he refused to take it. He said his financial situation has been "rough" as he got out of the Army Reserve last June and his wife had not been employed until late last month, so the financial burdens of their family all fell on him.

When asked why Lefatia was permitted to have a cell phone, when DPS policy strictly prohibits any inmate from having a phone, Salanoa told police that "he did not see any harm in it" as Lefatia uses the phone to watch videos.

Investigators wanted to know why Salanoa showed preferable treatment to Lefatia. The defendant said it all came down to, "If I help you out… you will help me out." He clarified the type of 'help' he was talking about, by referring to the case of another inmate.

"The one time we were looking for Fiti… Manu would know about that," he said. When asked if he was trying to 'develop' Lefatia as a source or an informant, Salanoa responded, "Yeah… something like that."

On Mar. 4, a DPS detective received information that the niece of a fellow officer was photographed with Lefatia, and the picture was made public through a Facebook post. The young woman was confronted and she allegedly told her police officer uncle the Lefatia visited her twice last month — once at the beginning of the month, and again around Valentine's Day, during which he came in a rental car.

On Mar. 11, the woman was interviewed by a detective in her Malaeimi home and according to her, Lefatia picked her up about 4 times, total this year — once in January and three times in February. During their second and third meetings, they stayed together from 11 p.m. - 4 a.m. and the last time they met — on Feb. 26 — they were together from 8 p.m. - 11p.m.

The woman is certain of the dates and times, because text messages from Lefatia informing her of the 'pick-up' areas were stored in her mother's phone, of which she showed police.

(See tomorrow's Samoa News for more on this story.)