Former cop accused in Juvie Dentention crimes facing jury trial
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The jury trial of the former DPS police officer accused of committing various crimes while assigned to work at the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) in Tafuna began yesterday in High Court.
Okesene Alo, who is still in custody, unable to post a $100,000 surety bond is facing 13 charges, including 3 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors; 2 counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance to wit; methamphetamine; 2 counts of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute; one count of stealing; 3 counts of permitting escape; and 2 counts of aiding a child to possess and consume alcohol - all felonies.
A six-member jury, two females and four males, was selected Monday to hear the case.
During opening statements, prosecutor Christy Dunn explained to jurors, what the government is calling the “facts of the case”, while private attorney Richard deSaulles asked them to keep an open mind and be patient.
PROSECUTOR’S OPENING REMARKS
Of the JDC, Dunn told the jury, “Basically it is the child version of jail," for those between 10 and 18 years old. She said the Corrections officers who work at the JDC are assigned the task of looking out for the safety of the children who are detained there.
"And in June 2016, defendant Alo was one of those officers who worked at the JDC.”
According to Dunn, between April and September 2016, Alo repeatedly violated JDC rules while working there, which is also a sign that he violated the rights of the children who were under his care.
“He smoked meth while on duty at the JDC. He sold meth to some children detained at the JDC. He gave beer to some of the children. He left the JDC while working on night shift to do other things. He took food from the JDC without permission in exchange for drugs. He also allowed some children to call their parents and ask for money to buy drugs,” Dunn told the jury.
She continued by saying that there were times Alo took some children out of the JDC at night to see their parents, when these minors were not allowed to leave the compound. Most of the time, Dunn asserts, he did this while working on the night shift alone, by himself.
Alo was caught on Sept. 15, 2016 when another officer who worked during the morning shift noticed that one of the young boys, who detained at the JDC, was high on drugs.
The matter was reported to police and an investigation was launched on how this kid got drugs while being detained.
The kid tested positive for methamphetamine. It was revealed during the course of the investigation that the boy got the meth from Alo's backpack.
“It was this information on how this young boy got the drugs that another investigation was launched by police against the defendant and other officers, which caused the government to file this case against the defendant,” Dunn told the jury.
She said the evidence the government is going to present throughout trial will prove that Alo repeatedly violated JDC rules. The government will call several witnesses, including police officers, juveniles who were allegedly involved, and also two of Alo's co-defendants.
Assisting Dunn during trial are Deputy Attorney General, Lornalei Meredith and lead investigator, Det. Filemoni Amituana’i.
In his opening remarks, lead defense attorney deSaulles asked the jury to “keep an open mind”, as they're going to hear a long case, as described by the government.
“The government stated that Alo is the bad guy and also the ringleader; and you will also hear stories about Alo and his co-officers running wild at the JDC,” deSaulles said. “You’re going to hear testimonies that Alo smoked methamphetamine, stole things from the JDC, or even gave drugs and beer to the youngsters at the JDC. I ask you to be patient and keep an open mind, because you’re going to hear a different story from the defense about what happened.”
According to the defense's case, Alo is a husband and a police officer, who sincerely cares for the safety of the young men and women detained at the JDC. He’s a dependable and hard working police officer who worked most of the time because some of his fellow officers were not able to come to work.
“Evidence will show that Alo is a kind man and cares much for the safety of the children. He also abided with all the rules at the JDC,” deSaulles continued.
He said Alo saw a youngster at the JDC with a sad face because he was missing his family; he then bent the rules and allowed him to call his family. He also saw young kids complaining of not having enough food outside of mealtime, and he found extra food for them.
deSaulles told jurors that the evidence will show that Alo worked for years at the JDC, and was surrounded by thieves, drug addicts, and criminals. And those were not the youngsters, but his fellow officers.
“You will see several witnesses who will come in and point the finger at Alo, but I ask you to be patient and allow the light of justice to shine on this case. Throughout this trial, you will hear evidence about officers bringing beer and drinking with juveniles at the JDC,” deSaulles told the jury.
He said the evidence would show that there were officers who brought drugs into the JDC and allowed juveniles to smoke with them, and there will also be evidence of other officers admitting to stealing from the JDC.
According to deSaulles, evidence will show that when police questioned these officers about the case, they lied. He said there is evidence showing that the young man who told police that he got drugs from Alo kept changing his story over and over.
deSaulles told jurors that when police questioned Alo about the case, he waived his right to remain silent and agreed to speak to investigators, and he told them 3 things.
“He told detectives he doesn’t use drugs with young kids because he’s not stupid; second, he told them he thought the youngsters made up these stories to get them out of the JDC; and thirdly, he thought that he was being set up by his fellow officers. Unlike other officers, Alo’s story never changed,” deSaulles said.
He continued by saying that Alo told investigators to perform a drug test on him the very day he was questioned about the case.
deSaulles told the jury that all the evidence the government will present throughout trial will carry much doubt.
deSaulles is being assisted by counsel William Olson.
The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.
The case is being heard by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Mamea Sala Jr and Tunupopo Alalafaga.