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Bus driver pleads guilty to sexually abusing his 15-year-old neighbor

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A bus driver accused of sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl told he court the reason he changed his ‘not guilty’ plea to ‘guilty’ is because he wants to return to his family in Samoa.

Lalomilo Raymond Taume, 35, who has been in custody since his arrest last year, unable to post a $6,000 surety bond, appeared in High Court yesterday morning for a Change of Plea hearing.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey, while Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill is representing Taume, who was initially charged with first degree sexual abuse, a class D felony; and two misdemeanors: third degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

Under a plea agreement accepted by the High Court, Taume pled guilty to first degree sexual abuse. He admits that on Aug. 27, 2018 he touched the breast of a 15-year-old girl for the purpose of arousing his sexual desires.

According to terms of the plea agreement, it was the victim’s 20-year-old brother who reported the incident to police. Investigators interviewed both the victim and her brother in the absence of their parents who were both at work when the incident occurred.

The victim told police that she was asleep but was suddenly awakened when she felt someone massaging her left breast. She said at first, she thought it was a dream; however, a few seconds later, she realized it wasn’t.

She told police that when she awoke, she saw Taume kneeling next to her head, touching her head and body. Taume whispered to her to be quiet and not make any noise.

Taume told the girl he wanted to spend some time with her but the victim didn’t fall for it. Instead, she screamed and yelled out for her father. Taume got up quickly and ran out, started his aiga-bus which was parked in front of his house, and left the area. The victim and Taume are neighbors.

The victim told investigators this was not the first time Taume had done this to her.  She said one night, while sitting in front of her house, she felt someone touching both her breasts from behind. She turned around to find Taume standing behind her. When she asked what he was doing, he just laughed without saying a word.

The victim also recalled another night, while she was sleeping on her bed, she felt something heavy on her. She awoke and saw Taume trying to lay on top of her. She said she pushed him and yelled out to her family, causing Taume to run out and head home.

The government claims that there were times when Taume confronted the victim and gave her money to buy food and drinks but the victim did not accept it.

The victim’s brother echoed his sister’s statement to investigators, and said that 2 days before this most recent incident, at around 4a.m., he woke up to use the bathroom and when he walked into their home, he was shocked to see Taume in this boxers kneeling next to his sister’s bed.

The brother did not say a word but stood in front of the door and kept looking at Taume, who pretended he was looking for a CD next to where the victim was sleeping. A few moments later, Taume stood up and walked away.

The victim’s brother told police he had a bad feeling about the incident — that Taume had tried to do something bad to his sister — but also thought that it was not possible. However, when Taume’s actions were repeated on the early morning of Tuesday, Aug. 28th, the victim’s brother decided to inform police.

During court proceedings, Associate Justice Fiti Sunia asked Taume whether the terms of the plea agreement were explained to him before he signed it. Taume said yes, the agreement was read to him in Samoan.

 “Was there a Samoan version of the plea agreement?” Sunia asked Taume who replied, “No, it was explained to me in Samoan by a female inmate.”

Sunia turned to McNeill and asked if he obtained the services of a female inmate to explain the terms of the plea agreement to Taume.

McNeill said he used the female inmate to assist his client when they discussed the terms of the plea agreement. Sunia questioned the current status of the Public Defender’s Office staff, and wanted to know whether their two Samoan investigators are still working.

McNeill said the PD does not have a staff that can assist them when it comes to handling cases. According to a senior staff member at the PD’s office, the two Samoan male investigators who worked for them are no longer there. One was terminated due to poor attendance while the other is off-island for medical treatment.

Both parties are recommending probation with the condition that Taume must depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the duration of probation.

Sentencing is Oct. 29th.