The Office of the Attorney General has stepped in to action recommendations from the Ombudsman’s Office on prescribing a clearer process in the use of firearms by Police officers.
Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma made the recommendations following an investigation into the “unlawful and cruel” arrest of Suitupe Misa at the Fugalei market.
Maiava recommended that section 13 of the Police and Powers Act to be reviewed by the Ministry of Police in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.
This is to prescribe a clearer process and parameters for issuing authorizations for the use of firearms, and the inclusion of a provision and guidelines for use of firearms in urgent situations without prior Ministerial approval.
New Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, confirmed that his Office is undertaking the review with the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil. “We have commenced looking into the section (13 of Police and Powers Act),” Lemalu responded in an email to the Samoa Observer.
“And we have invited the Police Commissioner to work together with us in looking at clarifying and solidifying the rules and laws of firearms use. I have otherwise been informed that the police are now seeking warrants from the Court for any use of firearms.”
Lemalu said it is his view that “any laws and regulations regarding the use of firearms by the police need to carry the balance between the protection of the rights of our citizens and the ability of hard working police officers to protect themselves in the line of duty.” He added that his Office is not instructed to deal with any other part of the report.
Under the Police and Powers Act 2007 section 13 (2) the Commissioner shall not permit a police officer to have in his or her possession a firearm, ammunition, explosives or dangerous weapons for use in the exercise of that officer’s duties.
It also pointed out in section 13 (2)(a) that the Minister has to approve the arming of the police officer or person.
Lawyer for Suitupe Misa, Sarona Ponifasio, said they too are reviewing the Ombudsman’s report.
Mrs. Ponifasio said it is premature to comment but a decision will be made upon completing the review.
Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil had issued a statement saying he has respect and reverence for the laws of Samoa and is sensitive to every person’s Constitutional Rights. “The Samoa Police will continue to do whatever it takes within the law to keep our country and our people safe,” he said.
The Ombudsman’s Office had concluded that the investigation has made a series of serious findings that will require follow up action.
“The most serious involve the findings that the arrest of Suitupe was wrongful and unlawful,” said Maiava in the report.
“The use of firearms was not permissible and reflects a worrying trend under the new Commissioner to a U.S. style of policing that is demonstrated to have a negative impact on public safety and security.
The actions of the Commissioner leave a lot to be desired, as do the actions of some of the officers during the arrest and their subsequent involvement in this investigation.”