DPS Officer Salanoa says no bribes — three inmates tell police otherwise
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Ioane Faimata and Mauina Povi — two inmates currently in custody at the temporary holding cells (THC) in Fagatogo — have told investigators that DPS officer Tuluiga Richard Salanoa did in fact permit inmate Manu Lefatia to leave his cell to go visit his girlfriend, more than once. In addition, they claim Salanoa received money from Lefatia, and there was another cop involved.
As reported in yesterday's Samoa News, Salanoa was arrested and charged with permitting escape and concealing an offense — both felonies. He made his initial appearance in District Court Tuesday morning and bail is set at $10,000
Lefatia is also in custody with no set bail for this new case, where he is charged with escape and bribery. He is charged in two other cases for allegedly shooting a man in Leone and for beating an inmate at TCF.
Salanoa had told investigators that he knew what he did was wrong, but he was just "tired of everything", specifically being berated by his supervisor, Capt. Pou Supapo, and he allowed Lefatia to leave his cell "out of the kindness of his heart" because he isn't one to "judge others". He was also adamant that "no bribery" was involved.
According to the government's case, earlier this month on Mar. 3, Salanoa permitted Lefatia to leave the THC for an hour to visit his girlfriend. Lefatia's absence was uncovered when two cops who were relieving Salanoa following a double-shift saw Lefatia making his way back to the THC from the mountainside near the DPS Records Office.
When questioned by investigators, inmate Povi said that every time Lefatia wanted to eat something from the nearby fast-food restaurant, he would use Salanoa's phone to call his girlfriend from Laulii to buy it. (The girl's name is not mentioned in the court affidavit).
The girl would buy the food and drive up to the parking lot in front of the DPS Records Office where it would be picked up by Salanoa. The food was shared by all of them and according to Povi, this happened about 3 times this year.
He further stated that Lefatia had confided in him, saying he gave Salanoa $60
On Mar. 8, police were able to interview inmate Faimata who said that between January and March 2019, Salanoa allowed Lefatia to leave the THC about 3-4 times. He said he couldn't recall the exact dates but added that every time Lefatia would return to the THC, he would call out to him, to let him know.
Faimata told police that on one occasion, he saw Lefatia give Salanoa $100 but there were times when Lefatia would hand money to Salanoa and he just assumed that it was $100.
Faimata recalled that one day last month, Lefatia had asked Salanoa if he could use his phone to call his girlfriend to bring some food. Salanoa said yes and while Lefatia and the girl were conversing on the phone, Faimata said Salanoa uttered to Lefatia, "remember the $60”.
After the phone call, Faimata says Salanoa's phone rang and he walked out. He returned moments later with bags of food and when Lefatia asked if he got his $60, Salanoa said "yeah."
Faimata said every time Lefatia would leave the THC, Salanoa would instruct him to stage Lefatia's bed and in return, he would buy him a pack of cigarettes.
This was allegedly confirmed by Salanoa when he was questioned by police at his Fagaalu residence, during which time he said he allowed Lefatia to leave the THC 2- 3 times and on each occasion, he instructed Faimata to fix Lefatia's bed, to make it "appear as though somebody" was in it.
When investigators interviewed Lefatia, the inmate explained that on the morning he escaped (Sunday, Mar. 3), he received a call from family members telling him his daughter was ill. He said he had not seen any of his kids since he was moved from the TCF to the THC — about 6 months ago. He said once he was notified of his daughter's condition, he "made up his mind" that he was "going to leave the THC".
He said he passed Salanoa and Faimata who were playing cards, and walked right out the door. Then he climbed through a gap in the wire fencing that separates the curtilage of THC from a flight of concrete steps and a private residence on the other side. He then walked up the slope, hoping to find a ride to his house but he was unsuccessful so he returned to the THC. And that's when he saw two cops walking around the area so he "decided to return."
When asked if he had given Salanoa any money as a "payoff" to leave the THC, Lefatia said no, but he did give Salanoa money four times: $40, $60, $80 and $80 respectively.
Lefatia told police the Salanoa only "paid him back" one time, in the amount of $40.