Manu'a faipule: Alleged mistreatment of prisoners needs fed attention
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Manu’a faipule, Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele says the alleged mistreatment of inmates by prison guards at the TCF is not a joke, and he will do whatever he can to make sure the issue reaches the federal court.
Toeaina made the comment after a hearing that was scheduled this past Monday by the House Legal Affairs/Judiciary Committee to discuss the issue was cancelled, due to the unavailability of witnesses that were subpoenaed to testify.
He assured lawmakers that he would be sending a letter to the federal court with all the information about the alleged issue.
House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, who doesn't support Toeaina’s suggestion, told faipule that they must consider the fact that those who are doing time at TCF are convicts and they are all under the supervision of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
“I want to you keep that in mind," Savali said, adding that inmates have been convicted and therefore, ordered by the court to serve jail time. "They should be thankful they’re receiving good treatment at the prison, because half a loaf is better than nothing.”
He added, “It’s our responsibility to find ways to assist the Police Commissioner and those who are in power, especially those who are looking after the inmates, instead of us trying to protect the inmates and point fingers at the prison guards.”
The House Speaker advised faipule to find ways to lighten the burden of the Police Commissioner and his staff, instead of calling hearings and subpoenaing them to appear before each committee.
Savali said the Commissioner understands what is best for the community and the inmates, and it’s the Fono’s responsibility to give the police support and applaud them for the work they do in keeping the community safe.
In response, Toeaina said he hopes the issue about the alleged mistreatment of inmates is discussed during today’s hearing before the House Government Operations Committee, where Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson is scheduled to testify on the issue concerning firefighters guarding inmates at the TCF. Other witnesses subpoenaed to testify include the Fire Chief, the warden, and two DPS deputy commissioners.
Other issues set to be discussed during the hearing involve the new driver’s license card, a pay raise for cops, and the updated list of officers certified to be armed.
Toeaina emphasized the importance of the issue regarding the TCF, and said lawmakers need to look at it and find ways to stop it.
“I don’t want our people to think the Fono knew about what was happening at the TCF but turned away and discussed other issues. I think it’s about time for us to look at these sensitive issues. Mistreatment of inmates inside the prison by police officers is against the law. Things like this happened in the past and I don’t want a repeat,” Toeaina said.
It was revealed during the house session this week that several faipule received plenty of positive feedback from their constituents, supporting them in their efforts to address TCF issues.
Fofo faipule, Rep. Fagaoatua Dorian Salavea said that after Samoa News published the story about the issue he raised last week concerning firemen being transferred to the TCF to guard prisoners, he received a lot of positive feedback from other firemen.
It was Fagaoatua who requested a hearing with Le'i, to explain why the Fire Division has been removed from the Leone Substation, with some of the employees now assigned by Le’i to guard the two inmates who escaped twice from prison this year.
One of the escapees told a judge earlier this month that he suffers beatings at the TCF.
According to Toeaina, issues like this were reported in the past, which resulted in the federal government stepping in and charging police officers working at the TCF at the time, including the Warden, for assaulting an inmate. (See Background for details)
He acknowledged the order made by Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea which was reported by Samoa News Mar. 02, that the government attorney who is prosecuting the case of the escapee who claims to have been beaten by police officers, forward a copy of the court proceedings to the AG.
Former TCF warden, the late Amituana’i Mika Kelemete was arrested here and taken to Honolulu where he was charged in federal court, in connection with the beating of an inmate on TCF grounds. He later pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the civil rights of an inmate.
Under a plea agreement with the federal government, Amituana’i admitted that in August 2003, he ordered two correction officers to remove an inmate from his cell and bring him to the center of the TCF where the inmate was handcuffed to a pole.
At that point, Amituana’i used a board to strike the inmate on the head and back until the board broke. In 2008, Amituana’i was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised released.