Senior cop suspended following alleged sexual harassment
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Sexual harassment is not a news issue. There are other important issues you should go investigate and write stories about.”
This was the response from Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson when Samoa News asked him about an alleged sexual harassment case involving a senior police officer, a cop many in the DPS label as a "favorite" of Le'i's.
The Commish didn't reply to Samoa News inquiries that were sent to him via-email about this particular case; however, he answered his phone and said the matter is not a news issue.
Samoa News did receive heaps of phone calls and emails from several police officers, asking for an investigation into the matter.
According to information obtained by Samoa News, a DPS senior police officer, who holds the rank of lieutenant was suspended for five days without pay last week for sexual harassment following an alleged incident involving a female cop at the Tafuna Substation.
It is alleged that when the matter surfaced, the female cop was immediately transferred to the DPS Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
The alleged victim had reported the incident to her supervisor, who then verbally reported the matter to the DPS Internal Affairs (IA) and an internal investigation was launched.
Samoa News understands the investigation was completed two weeks ago, and that’s when the full report was forwarded to the Commissioner for review, who then made the decision to suspend the senior officer for five days without pay.
The case was then closed without any further action.
The decision by Le’i has angered some senior police officers whom have questioned why their colleague was suspended instead of being prosecuted after the matter was reported.
“If this was something done by any member of the public, or someone who is not a favorite to the Commissioner, that person would have already been arrested and charged,” one concerned senior officer said.
“Why was he suspended for one week while members of the public are being arrested and prosecuted for the same thing? And after they are convicted in court, they serve time behind bars. This case must be investigated and this officer must face consequences for his action.”
THE ALLEGED INCIDENT
According to information that was provided to Samoa News, the alleged incident occurred last month inside the Tafuna Substation during working hours. The female officer went inside the lieutenant's office to grab a drink. While she was bending down to reach for a drink from inside the refrigerator, she felt somebody allegedly touching her butt in a sexual manner.
The female officer immediately stood up and turned around to see who had touched her. When she did, the lieutenant allegedly tried to kiss her on the mouth. She quickly turned her mouth to the side and the lieutenant’s lips allegedly touched her cheeks. That's when the female officer asked the lieutenant, “What's wrong with you?”
Without saying a word, the lieutenant kept at it. He allegedly reached for the female officer’s jaw and tried to face her towards him, and that’s when he allegedly gave her a kiss. The female officer closed her mouth to avoid the lieutenant’s tongue from touching her mouth. That's when she pushed the lieutenant away from her and walked out of the room, leaving the senior officer behind.
A few moments later, the lieutenant exited the room, slammed the door and said, “Oh Dammit” while making his way outside of the office.
Several officers working at the Tafuna Substation on that day witnessed the changes in the female officer's demeanor, not only did she look unhappy, she was also sad.
When confronted by her supervisor, the female officer explained what had happened and the supervisor verbally reported the alleged incident to the DPS Internal Affairs for further investigation.
Contated by Samoa News last week, the female officer declined to comment about the alleged incident, but the police lieutenant did. When was asked about the allegations, he denied everything.
“Nothing like that happened,” the senior police officer said.
“I did not sexually harass her nor did I make any inappropriate behavior against her. I was just playing around. It wasn't anything serious, it was like normal behavior that always happens in other working places — when people normally play around with other co-workers, but nothing serious.”
Samoa News asked, “Are you now saying that your five-day suspension without pay isn't fair because you didn't do anything wrong and nothing happened?”
His response was, “It was the Commissioner’s decision to suspend me and I have to respect his decision. Whatever his decision is, I will honor it because this is what he feels is the right thing to do.”
Samoa News was able to obtain a statement from Victims Advocate, Ipu Avegalio Lefiti regarding this matter.
According to Lefiti, this matter reached her officer when the alleged victim was not satisfied with the Commissioner’s decision to place the senior police officer on a 5-day suspension without pay and then closing the case.
“Once our office received this matter together with all the information including the complaint that was filed at the police station, I then went straight to the Attorney General to inform him about the matter. The case is now in front of the prosecutors, they’re reviewing it before taking any action”, Lefiti said. (See LTE in today’s newspaper)
According to Lefiti, it was after the Commissioner made his decision to suspend the senior officer when the alleged victim and her parent visited her office. That’s when all the information pertaining to the alleged incident was revealed to her.
“After I received all the alleged information about what happened, I was so shocked to hear about the Commissioner’s decision. The alleged sexual harassment happened inside the workplace but no action was taken to make sure this type of behavior would not happen again.
“With April being the month of Sexual Harassment Awareness, I would like to point out that this type of behavior in the workplace is against the law and will not be tolerated,” Lefiti continued, adding that the Commissioner's decision is a true reflection of him.
A senior police officer told Samoa News that the U.S Department of Labor has a policy prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace in all US states and territories, including American Samoa.
“These types of unwelcomed actions including touching or grabbing of a sexual nature, and verbal abuse of a sexual nature, are prohibited in any workplace around the United States and that includes the DPS,” one senior police officer said.
“I strongly believe the senior police officer allegedly involved in this case must be arrested and prosecuted, and if the Commissioner is not able to do the right thing, he should step down from the post immediately.”
(Samoa News points out that it did not publish the name of the senior police officer that was suspended for alleged sexual harassment due to no criminal charges being filed against the officer.)