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Parole board gets three new members, making quorum

Governor Togiola Tulafono has appointed Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, Uso Lago’o and Tauai Suiaunoa as three new members to the parole board last week.

For the past 11 months there have been no parole hearings because there has been no quorum. A General Memorandum dated June 18, 2012 with the subject “removal and appointment of parole board members” has it that current Chairman Reverend Ned Ripley and Charlie Togiola remain on the board while Reverend Fa’atui Laolagi has been replaced.

Samoa News understands that Laolagi has been seeking medical treatment off island  due to his health.

Governor Togiola in the general memorandum thanked the sitting members of the board for their years of service in their appointments and remove from them their appointments to the board along with their attendant duties.

The governor noted that in accordance with the statute each appointed member “shall serve an indefinite term” and the board shall select a chairperson and each member of the parole board shall continue to serve until his or her successor is dully qualified and appointed by the Governor.

Togiola said he is confident that the new appointees will carry out the statutory duties of the Parole Board. Lefiti’s appointment by the governor came as a surprise to her, she told Samoa News.

However she said it’s an honor and challenge and it’s definitely another dimension in her work as a victim advocate and activist. “It’s also an opportunity for me to learn more about the justice system and how it works” she said. Lefiti thanked the governor for putting his trust in her to be a part of the parole board.

Lefiti hoped that her being a part of the parole board would be an asset to the board and she’s looking forward to working with the members.

Lefiti, a strong advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, writes editorial pieces, and is a strong activist promoting awareness in the church and community. She served in the U.S. military until 1994, and is active in a number of organizations.

Lefiti is a the vice-chair for the Multi-Disciplinary Task Force against family violence; a founding member of the American Samoa Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, serving as vice chair and then as executive director, a co-founder of American Samoa’s Task Force on Faces of Abuse; secretary for the Women in New Dimension, a domestic violence transitional facility; secretary on the governing board of the Boys and Girls Club of American Samoa; and member of the First Lady’s Ta’ita’itama Executive Board on prevention of underage drinking initiative.

Lefiti also received the first Arthur A. Morrow award from the American Samoa Bar Association. Samoa News was unable to get a hold of Suiaunoa and Lago’o to comment on their appointment.

As Samoa News reported earlier, a parole officer who wished not to be named said the board is supposed to meet every six months however that has not happened.

In March Samoa News received a letter from inmate Mike Agasiva who said the Parole statute permits the parole board to meet every six months to consider applications from eligible inmates, however the last parole hearing was in June 2011.

Agasiva in his letter states that there are only three board members left and that they undergoing medical checkup off island, so there are not enough parole board members for a quorum to hold parole hearings.  

The inmate also appealed to Governor Togiola Tulafono to come for an impromptu visit at the Tafuna Correctional facility. Agasiva said the “TCF is not only over crowded but when 5-6 inmates sleep on the cement floor without mattresses in a 10X10 cell it constitutes “cruel-and-unusual punishment”.

Agasiva added that there are other civil rights violations “beyond the Governor’s imagination” involving the mentally impaired and physically disabled individuals at the TCF. Agasiva concluded his letter by stating that TCF needs parole board action as soon as possible.