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Suspects identified in west side high school break-ins and vandalism

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Director of Education, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga
DOE director says their job is to educate, not investigate

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has completed its investigation into two break-ins and vandalism a few weeks ago at Tafuna HS and Leone HS. Reports have already been submitted to the Attorney General Office along with a recommendation to prosecute the juveniles who are suspects in the cases.

This was revealed during a hearing yesterday morning before the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr.

DPS Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson, Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Director of Education, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga appeared before the committee to testify on the issue.

According to Le’i, for the first break-in at LHS a few months ago, six students have been charged and prosecuted as the result of a police investigation. He did not reveal the names of the students when requested by some faipule because the culprits are juveniles. Le’i said the teens have already appeared in District Court and their cases are pending.

For the second break-in at LHS a few weeks ago, Le’i told lawmakers that it appears from their investigation that some of the six juveniles charged in the first incident are also involved in the second break-in.

Rep. Vesiai Poyer Samuelu asked Talauega why it takes so long for his office to prosecute juveniles who are suspects in these incidents — is it because the teens are related to teachers in the school or some high ranking people in the village or even the government?

This was echoed by Tualauta faipule, Rep. Larry Sanitoa, who told Talauega that it was revealed during a meeting with top officials from DPS and DOE that the investigation is complete and the report is with the AG’s Office. Sanitoa asked Talauega what type of criminal cases his office treats as priority.

Talauega said priority cases include murder, rape, burglary, and stealing. He said police officers have to investigate an alleged crime first, and once that investigation is complete, a report is filed with his office for review.

“Once I receive that report, I will not act on the report and prosecute the case immediately until I am satisfied that there are sufficient facts to take the case to court. So, the delay in the process is not because the suspect is related to me, to a high ranking person of the village or anybody,” Talauega stated.

“Nothing is more serious than an attorney who acts quickly to file a case in court and finds out later that there isn't enough evidence to prove the case. If there is insufficient evidence to file a court in court, it's a waste of time to file it,” he said, adding that it is not an easy task, and they have to work with DPS and DOE to ensure they have a solid case before they move to the next step.

Vice Speaker Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr wanted to know from the DOE director, whether they have discussed any solutions to avoid these problems from happening again.

Matagi-Tofiga explained that after the previous break-in and vandalism, security cameras have been installed at THS and LHS; however, the recent incidents did not occur in the area where the cameras are.

She told lawmakers that their job is not to investigate the students but to educate them. "That’s the role of our law enforcement,” she said.

Following another meeting with teachers and DOE officials a few weeks ago, Matagi-Tofiga said one of the recommendations discussed and approved is the installation of cameras at all high schools, and hiring a truancy officer.

And while representatives from the USDOE support the recommendation to hire truancy officers, Matagi-Tofiga said money is needed to hire night security for each high school.

Ituau faipule, Rep. Logoituau Mark Atafua recommended a meeting with teachers and parents. He said teachers from each school need to visit the homes of each of the students who are suspects, to discuss ways to put a stop to the problem.

Other faipule recommended that each school follow the DOE Manual and expel all students who cause trouble. The recommendation was echoed by Talauega and Le’i.