Third TCF officer charged in connection with Leone shooting
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A third DPS police officer who was assigned to the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) has been arrested and is now charged in connection with the shooting that occurred in Leone last month allegedly involving an inmate who is believed to have escaped from confinement, which resulted in a male being hospitalized for gunshot wounds.
Officer Viopapa Vitolio made her initial appearance in District Court this past Friday. She was represented by private attorney Thomas Jones of the RDA Law Firm, while prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly.
Vitolio, who was responsible for keeping the log for the night/ morning of the alleged incident, is facing charges of criminal fraud and tampering with public records, both class C felonies, each punishable by an imprisonment term of up to 7 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
The DPS- TCF officer was served with the copy of the arrest warrant on Thursday afternoon, after which she was booked and confined at TCF to await her initial appearance on Friday morning.
She was one of the 5 police officers assigned to the TCF, who were suspended with pay for a period of 30 days last month, while police officers were conducting their investigation regarding the shooting in Leone allegedly involving an inmate from TCF.
Judge Fiti Sunia established Vitolio’s bail in the amount of $2,000, cash bond.
If she posts her bond, the court ordered that she remain law abiding, not leave or attempt to leave the territory, and she has to surrender her travel documents to the government’s attorney. She was also ordered not to make any direct or indirect contact with all the government’s witnesses.
Vitolio’s preliminary examination (PX) is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 1p.m in the afternoon.
The first two DPS-TCF officers who were charged by the government in this case last month are Watch Commander Mosese Lomu and Officer Toloa Koonwaiyou.
The government claims that it was around 4:40a.m on Aug. 12, 2018 when DPS police Lt. Kolia Solaita contacted the lead investigator in this case, Det. Justin Thomsen, to inform him about a shooting in Leone and that the primary suspect was allegedly a TCF inmate. The suspect was later allegedly identified by two eye-witnesses as Manu Lefatia. According to the affidavit, the shooting in Leone occurred around 3a.m on the same morning of Aug. 12.
Around 3:30a.m immediately after the shooting, the affidavit states that Chief of Police Foifua called TCF and informed them about the shooting, stating that two eye-witnesses were naming inmate Lefatia as the suspect. Foifua then requested a check on Lefatia’s cell.
At 8a.m on the same morning, investigators interviewed another TCF officer by the name of Carter Soliai at the Tafuna Police Station. According to the affidavit, Soliai stated that contrary to statements made by Lomu when Lefatia’s cell was checked at around 3:30a.m Lefatia was not inside his cell, but he was later found around 3:45a.m outside of his cell near inmate Isumu’s cell. He further stated that aside from the initial count conducted at around 11p.m on Aug. 11, 2018, no other head count was done until they were instructed at the request of Foifua.
Members of the TCF morning watch were all interviewed by police regarding this alleged incident. They were Vitolio, who is responsible for keeping the TCF watch log on the night/morning of the alleged incident, Lomu, Koowaiyou, Junior Kuka and Soliai.
Kuka echoed Soliai’s statement, saying that aside from the initial head count conducted on Aug 11 at 11p.m, no other transmissions were sent to the main office.
Also in the affidavit it says after several police officers from the Patrol Division arrived to see if the witness (Sopi) could identify the shooter, Lomu called a meeting in the main office of TCF and instructed all officers of the watch to “stick to the one story,” stating that the excuse for the delayed report to Chief Foifua about Lefatia’s whereabouts was due to them beginning their headcount from the furthest unit (Alpha).
The entire watch, including Vitolio, Lomu, Koowaiyou, Kuka and Soliai were all present during the de-briefing, according to the document, which stated that Kuka told police that he heard and saw Lomu look at Vitolio and state that they would “fix” the log to match the story. The story Lomu and Koowaiyou told them to follow was that when Foifua called, Koonwaiyou and Kuka were already conducting a head count that started in the Alpha unit.
Vitolio provided a statement to police regarding this incident. She stated that she only logs down transmissions from her co-workers who were the ones physically checking the inmates cells.
Police reviewed the TCF logs for the morning of Aug. 12 and saw that there were head counts on the hour and between Aug. 11, 2018 at 11p.m and 3a.m on Aug. 12, which indicated that all inmates were in their cells.
Police also printed copies of the TCF morning watch log to compare with the officers statements.
The government alleges that changes were made to the TCF log to reflect that there were head counts made. However, other TCF officers told police that there were no head counts made until they received the called from Foifua to check Lefatia’s cell as to whether he was inside or not.