Court questions Police Commish about arrests for traffic violations
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In two cases held over from December, Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson and former KHJ Radio reporter Tauva Esera were ordered by District Court Judge Fiti Sunia to appear yesterday for Show Cause hearings.
In the hearing regarding Le’i, a driver of a vehicle was pulled over by a police officer for a traffic violation and when the driver failed to provide a valid I.D. the police officer arrested the female driver and held her in prison for two nights before she appeared in court.
Le’i was subpoenaed to appear in court and explain DPS procedures for police officers when engaging with the community on public highways.
In the Esera case, she is accused of using her cellphone to allegedly record a hearing inside the courtroom on November of last year. Esera’s cellphone was confiscated and it was later turned over to the court I.T. person to review the recording inside.
The use of a cell phone and other electronic devices during court proceedings is strictly prohibited, with an admonition from the court before the beginning of a court session that all electronics devices must be turned off.
Esera did not appear in court for the Show Cause hearing, Le’i did.
The commissioner was accompanied by some of his senior staff officials including deputy commissioner, Falanaipupu Taase Sagapolutele.
Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn appeared for the government.
In the matter involving the police commissioner, Judge Sunia stated that it started when a police officer arrested a motorist after pulling over her vehicle for a broken taillight and no license plate. According to Sunia, the motorist was identified as Dorah Sua of Pago Pago, who is a U.S citizen.
When asked for her driver license, Sua gave her expired driver license to the police officer. That was the only I.D. in Sua’s possession, according to Sunia. And because Sua did not have a valid I.D. on her, the police officer then arrested and held her at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) for two nights before she appeared in court.
“Sua was brought in court on that day wearing a jumpsuit with handcuffs on her hands for a traffic violation and not providing a valid I.D. to the police officer, and that’s why the court issued an Order to Show Cause, so that the police commissioner could inform the court what policy DPS is using to assist police officers with their job,” Sunia said.
Prior to Sua’s case, Sunia stated that there was a similar case that happened in August of last year, when an individual by the name of Silafau Sioeli was arrested by a police officer and held at TCF for one night, after Sioeli refused to sign a citation for a seat belt violation.
Sunia stated that the court was confused and at the same time trying to understand, why an individual would be arrested after refusing to sign a citation, or have a valid I.D.
“Sua is a U.S citizen from Pago Pago while Sioeli is a registered alien and the court believes that the government must have records of a valid I.D for these two individuals,” Sunia said.
“How can a police officer arrest a motorist for no identification or refusing to sign a citation?”
Sunia recalled the testimony from deputy commissioner Sagapolutele when he was called on the witness stand this past December, where he told the court that DPS “does have a standard operation to guide police officers on how to conduct their daily duty.”
“During all these proceedings, what we found out is that there wasn’t a policy in place for DPS police officers to guide them during their daily duty,” Sunia said.
Another thing Sunia mentioned was that since the court issued this Order to Show Cause late last year, there have been more cases like this coming before the court.
“It’s not the court’s job to tell police officers how to do their job — it’s our duty to make sure the law has been followed. It’s also not the court’s job to protect the rights of everyone, it’s the duty of a sworn police officer to protect the rights of everyone,” Sunia said.
The judge then ordered that if there are any more such incidents coming before the court in the future involving police officers arresting individuals for traffic violations, the court will order the arresting police officer to testify before the court and explain the reason for such an arrest. However, if a policy were put in place to guide DPS police officers re their daily duties, then there would be no need for such an action.
In Esera’s case, Sunia stated that after the court reviewed all the evidence of the case and also the testimony from Esera, the court was satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to go forward.
Sunia did not say when the court is going to issue a decision in regards to Esera’s case, nor did he mention anything about Esera not appearing in court yesterday.