The Police Commissioner, Fuiava Egon Keil, issued a brief response yesterday to a report by Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma lambasting him and his officers in relation to the wrongful arrest of a member of the public.
“The Samoa Police has great respect and reverence for the laws of Samoa and sensitive to every person’s Constitutional Rights,” Fuiava said in a statement.
“The Samoa Police will continue to do whatever it takes within the law to keep our country and our people safe.”
The Commissioner declined to answer any further questions.
The response from the Commissioner follows criticisms in the findings of an investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office over a complaint made by a member of the public, Suitupe Misa, over an incident at the Fugalei market on 18 August 2015.
Described as a “watershed moment in the history of Samoa,” the incident saw the Police use firearms in a public place to carry out a pre-planned arrest of an individual.
Mr. Misa was arrested at gunpoint by a contingent of armed plain clothed officers in front of a shocked and distressed Fugalei marketplace.
It transpired that Mr. Misa had committed no crime and the arrest was carried out based on insubstantial and second-hand evidence.
Mr. Misa lodged a complaint against the Police, which was investigated by the Ombudsman’s Office. The findings of the investigation raise serious questions about the actions of the Police and the Commissioner.
“The Commissioner of Police failed to meet basic investigation principles and placed undue consideration on second hand evidence, leading directly to the wrongful and unlawful arrest of Suitupe,” one the report’s findings reads.
“The Commissioner’s decision to arm and allow the use of firearms by his officers contravened the Use of Force policy, was irresponsible, and could negatively impact the overall safety and security within Samoa.
“The Commissioner failed to take appropriate steps to identify the actions of his officers as being part of a police operation, leading to widespread distress and in one case serious health issues.”
The investigation also found that the Commissioner “does not have an understanding of the basic laws regarding arrest and detention in Samoa.”
Incidentally, the report says the arrest was “unlawful and improperly undertaken and therefore violated his fundamental human right to liberty.”
According to the Ombudsman, the findings clearly demonstrate a series of errors of judgment and unlawful actions that are nowhere near what we should be able to expect from our Police force.
“It is without question that the more serious of these issues must be addressed,” Maiava concludes.
“The unlawful nature of the arrest, the Commissioner’s lack of understanding of the law and the failings in the investigation. Whether this happens in the public domain or behind closed doors, it does not matter.
“What matters is that it happens sooner rather than later to prevent Samoa going further down the path towards a style of policing that will undoubtedly undermine our culture and lead to a more fearful and less secure society, as has been demonstrated in many other jurisdictions.
“This very sorry affair has highlighted a dangerous trend towards greater use of firearms by the Police, a tendency towards an American style of policing (America has its own set of circumstances) and a disregard for the law within our law enforcement agency.
“However, it is now up to the relevant people to ensure that this type of incident does not occur again. It is also up to each and every one of us to work towards greater community engagement with our Police officers.
“Without trust and support, law enforcement becomes reliant on use of force rather than communication. Guns, rather than words. There will be times when fear makes it tempting to call for greater use of firearms by the Police but let us draw strength from the fa’asamoa and from examples around the world such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom and be resolute in our commitment to peaceful and respectful law enforcement.”
The report was published in full in the Sunday Samoan (http://sobserver.ws/en/17_04_2016/local/5045/Police-slammed.htm).