Man breaks silence, tells of fear, trauma
A member of the public arrested at gunpoint by a contingent of armed Police officers has broken his silence about the ordeal.
Suitupe Misa, who is suing the Police for $1million tala, said the incident has changed his life forever. He said he feels like a prisoner in his own community.
“It’s like walking on eggshells. I have to watch my every move,” he said. “I get paranoid all the time. I’m always worried that the Police might plant or plot something against me. Since that day (I was arrested), I don’t trust anyone.
“I feel like I don’t have the freedom to move around freely without being followed (by the Police).”
During the interview with the Sunday Samoan, Mr. Misa was accompanied by his wife Catherine Misa. In tears, they spoke about the stress, mental impact, stereotypes and the ridicule they have had to deal with since August last year.
Mr. Misa remembers the incident like it was yesterday. He 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."
Later, Mr. Misa lodged a complaint against the Police, which was investigated by the Ombudsman’s Office. The findings of the investigation raised 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.
Mr. Misa said he has nightmares about the issue.
“There are times when in my head, I can hear their whispers behind me,” he said.
“That stereotype is always there and even though I had not done anything and I was wrongfully held against my human rights, people treat me as if I was the criminal…I didn’t anything wrong yet I’m being treated like the prisoner.”
According to Mr. Misa the incident has “mentally drained” him and has caused problems between him and his wife.
“To be honest with you I can’t sleep most nights,” he said. “When I close my eyes I have that memory replayed in my dreams like a nightmare. At one point I took off with our child because I thought the police were coming after me again.”
In tears, Mr. Misa said the trauma was too much for his wife and one day she wanted to leave him.
“I love my family and our child,” he said. “I have caused them all this distress, pain and suffering. I’m afraid if she walks out I no longer have the support from the only people that has been there for me to deal with this...sometimes I think to myself maybe things are better off if I just disappear.”
Mr. Misa added that he might never find another job after what had happened. He also questioned why criminal charges have not been pursued against the police officers involved.
Catherine said it hasn’t been easy.
“He is afraid of so many things that I fear for him and for our family. I’m living a life of fear and pressure and I don’t understand why my husband is being treated like a criminal when he did nothing wrong.”
Mrs. Misa said sometimes she wants to give up on what she has with her husband because it’s not the life she asked for.
“But when I think of it again he didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
“Everything that is happening is frustrating because I’m the one that gets to deal with the mess trying to put him right. I also feel worried about us running into trouble or making as wrong move because we don’t know who to run to, we can’t run to the Police for help.”
The mother admits that there are times when she wants to get up and leave just to get away from the stress.
“But like I said before he did not do anything wrong yet what happened that day has left a dreadful memory and a lifetime scar on us.”