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District court hears about cellular phone use by TCF inmates

Translated by Samoa News staff

District Court Judge Fiti A. Sunia has ordered a police officer working at the Territorial Correctional Facility to ensure the same treatment is given to all inmates at TCF, including Dean J. Fletcher, who is wanted by authorities in Tonga on an alleged murder charge. The issue arose from a request by Fletcher’s attorney to the court that his client be allowed to use the phone to call his family in the US — something he said that TCF officers are denying his client.

The judge’s statement was made last Friday during a court hearing for Fletcher, who is charged in American Samoa with one misdemeanor count of unlawfully entering and landing at the Port of Pago Pago (harbor) on Oct. 3 without clearance from port officials. The crime is punishable by one-year in prison or a fine of $1,000. He is held without bail.

Defense attorney Mathoni McCormick requested his client be allowed to use the telephone to call his family in the US as he is not being allowed by TCF officers to use the phone.

Sunia started questioning the TCF officer, who brought the defendant to the court and the judge spent a lot of time questioning the officer regarding TCF policies pertaining to inmates’ use of a telephone to contact their relatives.

The judge’s questions revealed new information that took the court by surprise — for example that an inmate can purchase a phone card for use for a cellular phone of a TCF officer on duty to make a phone call.

While this may be a policy for TCF when it comes to use of cell phones by inmates, Sunia says this is not acceptable by the court especially when an inmate purchases a $20 phone card to call his/ her family using a TCF officer’s cell phone using up only $5 and then the balance of that $20 remains in the officer’s cell phone. 

So that means, Sunia says, the $15 remaining balance on the phone card is with the TCF officer’s cell phone. (It wasn’t immediately clear from the hearing how the inmates would purchase a phone card.)

Also during the hearing, McCormick pointed out that his client, who is held without bail, is a US citizen and that special consideration should be given to the case. Sunia responded that all inmates — both US citizen and US nationals — have the same rights and are treated equally while their case go through the court system.

Additionally, the court has authority to reject bail for a defendant in accordance with the Constitution if there is a serious matter regarding a defendant in another jurisdiction. In this case, the defendant is faced with a murder charge in Tonga.

Assistant attorney general Gerald Murphy argued that the defendant should continue to be held without bail due to the seriousness of his crime in Tonga.

Murphy also pointed out while the defendant is facing a misdemeanor charge in American Samoa, Fletcher was found on his vessel the Sea Oak with $4,000. Additionally, if the court sets bail, the defendant will get bailed out and will flee American Samoa.

While McCormick tried to inform the court of other provisions of the law, which allow the defendant to post bail, Sunia ruled from the bench that the request for bail was denied. McCormick, however, still tried to address the court, but Sunia responded in a loud voice that request for bail is denied.

Sunia then asked if there is anything new to discuss and if not, the hearing was adjourned.

(Original Samoan story is published in today’s Lali section of Samoa News)

Meanwhile, Tonga-based Matangi Tonga online news reported last Thursday that the country’s Attorney General’s Office is asking the United States for a provisional arrest warrant of Fletcher, who is accused of murdering his wife in Neiafu, Vava’u.

Fletcher fled police custody on September 29 and sailed to American Samoa in his yacht Sea Oak. Tonga is seeking an extradition — a complex process that is expected to take “some time,” according to Matangi Tonga.