Trial of teacher who allegedly struck an 11-yr-old student resumes
The jury trial of a former school teacher, who was charged last year with one count of child abuse, a felony and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor — began yesterday (Nov. 7, 2017) in the High Court.
The victim is an 11-year-old student at Coleman Elementary School in Pago Pago and the defendant is Tony Leatualevao. Conviction of the felony charge carries up to 5 years, wile the misdemeanor up to one year.
Leatualevao is out on a $5,000 surety bond.
A six-member, all-female jury was selected on Monday.
Prosecutor Robert Morris explained to the jurors, what the government is calling the “facts of the case”, while Public Defender Douglas Fiaui provide a brief history of Leatualevao.
According to Morris, Leatualevao was a former teacher at Coleman Elementary School in Pago Pago and the victim, an 11-year-old boy, was one of his students last year.
Morris said the facts of the case are very simple and straight forward, because as the case moves forward, jurors will get the chance to hear witness testimonies and see photos of the bruises on the victim’s buttocks, which caused severe body pain.
Leatualevao is alleged to have used a wooden paddle to strike the victim five times on his behind on Nov. 03, 2016. “This former teacher beat the victim way too hard,” Morris told the jurors.
He said when the mother first heard about her son getting a “sasa” from his teacher, she didn’t think really hard about it. It wasn't until she showered the boy and saw the bruises on his buttocks that she got a clearer picture of what happened.
Morris said the boy's mother told her husband about the bruises and thereafter the couple filed a criminal complaint against the defendant.
The prosecutor claims that the injuries to the boy’s body were so severe, he was in pain for months, barely able to walk.
The prosecutor told the jury that the defense will argue that the victim was a bad child, who sometimes fought with other kids at school; but regardless of that, the defendant should never — in any way — have used unreasonable force to discipline a young child at school.
Fiaui, in his opening remarks to the jury, asked them to be patient until the end of the case, so they can hear all the facts.
The defense attorney, who referred to the defendant as “Tony”, told the jury that his client was a qualified math teacher and worked as an educator for 11 years. He said Tony had dreamt of being a teacher, ever since he was a young lad.
“He loved being a teacher,” Fiaui told the jury. But his dream turned into a nightmare last year when he was accused of child abuse.
According to the defense, the charges against his client are very serious but the facts of the case will prove that they are unfounded.
He said this case is all about classroom management and the discipline of a child, who had a bad attitude towards other students, including fighting them, pushing them and fooling around with them.
Fiaui claims that Tony tried to discipline the victim, because he wanted him to become a good person in the future.
He said there were times when Tony sent the victim to see the school counselor, who then called his parents to come to the school to talk about the victim’s behavior. This process continued for months.
On Nov. 2, 2016, a day prior to the incident, the victim got into a fight with another male student at school. Tony went over to break up the fight, brought the victim to the classroom and again, advised him to stop fighting but he never listened.
After school that day, the victim went to the home of the boy he fought and asked for another go and the two boys went at it again.
The next morning, after Tony heard about what happened, he struck the victim twice with the wooden paddle, just to discipline him for what he did. Fiaui said Tony didn’t strike the victim out of anger, but instead, out of love.
Tony told the victim’s mother what happened when she came to pick up her son’s report at the school that same day, but it was at night that the mother decided to file a criminal complaint against the teacher, which resulted in his arrest.
Fiaui said the force Tony used to discipline the victim was justified, and it is also allowed under the law. And for that reason, he asked the jury to find his client 'not guilty'.
The trial resumes at 9:00 today.
Presiding over the case is Chief Justice Michael Kruse, assisted by Associate Judges Fa’amausili Pomele and Muasau Tasina Tofili.