Two of the four TCF escapees have lengthy criminal records

Three make their initial appearance in court
ausage@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The three inmates accused of escaping from the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) this year made their initial appearance before District Court Judge Fiti Sunia yesterday morning. They are: Joe Togitogi, Joseph Iosefa Iakopo, and Ryan Pite.

Togitogi and Iakopo are each being charged two counts of escape from confinement and two counts of second degree burglary — all felonies; co-defendant Pite is charged with escape from confinement and burglary.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Bianca Lherisson while Assistant Public Defender Kate Hannaher is representing all three defendants, who were remanded to custody pending their PX next Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

According to the government case, all three defendants escaped twice from TCF and managed to evade an island wide search by several police officers.

The first incident took place on the second weekend of January this year, when four inmates escaped from confinement. According to the government, the four inmates allegedly managed to walk out of the main entrance of the new prison facility and escape without authority.

Three of the four inmates have been charged.

Charges against the fourth escapee, Timata Naea, are yet to be filed. Naea was re-captured by police two days after the alleged escape, while the three defendants were found five days later.

The government claims that the manhunt for the missing inmates prompted the Department of Public Safety to set up various roadblocks to search vehicles at several locations around the island.

After receiving tips from members of the public, DPS officers focused their search near the canneries and up the mountainous area in Leloaloa, where they found Togitogi and Pite.

Iakopo was captured in Nuuuli.

During the time of the alleged escape, the government claims the three inmates were involved in an incident, in which they allegedly broke into a house in the Tafuna area.

The men burglarized the home but didn't take any items, according to the government's case.

On Feb. 05, 2018, Togitogi and Iakopo again escaped from the TCF. According to the government, the two were caught on surveillance inside the new prison facility, cutting the bars in their cell, and escaping by climbing into the ceiling.

For the second incident, the government claims that Togitogi and Iakopo broke into a house in the Tualauta area. Again, nothing was reported missing from the home.

A manhunt for the two missing inmates prompted the DPS to again set up roadblocks around the island. After receiving a lead that the pair was sighted in the Tualauta area, police officers focused their search on the west side of the island where Togitogi and Iakopo were captured and taken into custody.

All three defendants were served a copy of their arrest warrant signed by Judge Sunia, noting a 'no bail' status.

BACKGROUND

According to Samoa News archives, Togitogi has a criminal record that dates back to 2013 when he was convicted of assaulting a homeless man in Nuuuli, and was ordered to serve 20 months at the TCF as a condition of his 5-year probation sentence.

A few weeks after he was released from prison in 2015, Togitogi was arrested again  for assaulting a man in front of a restaurant in Nuuuli.

Togitogi was convicted of second-degree assault and ordered to serve a 5-year straight sentence. On Apr. 16, 2016 while serving that sentence, Togitogi escaped from prison and he was charged accordingly. Last week, the High Court ordered him to serve 3 years for that escape conviction.

During his sentencing last week, Togitogi told the court that police brutality and inhumane treatment inside the prison walls are some of the reasons why prisoners escape from the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) in Tafuna. (See story Mar. 03, 2018 for details)

Iakopo was sentenced in 2014 to 16 years in jail after he was convicted of 14 burglaries involving six stores, a church, two restaurants, and five homes.

While serving time for a previous conviction, Pite and another inmate escaped from the TCF and burglarized the Bank of Hawaii, KFC and Pizza Hut in 2012.

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