Walking a fine line

By Marj Moore 11 July 2016, 12:00AM

Our front page story today is an example of a clash between legal and human rights of citizens of Samoa versus our Police seeking to uphold the laws of our country. 

Throw into the mix, allegations of a failure by the police to follow proper procedures and allegedly being armed with firearms in the presence of children, and you have a highly emotive situation.

This all comes about after a report that during the first raid on the house last September, an adult male, Mr Tupito was taken into custody for being in possession of marijuana. His wife Mrs Tupito in the story does not dispute this fact nor does she claim he was innocent.

A subsequent raid a few days later during which the police are alleged to have being armed, did not produce any evidence and according to Mrs Tupito, scared and traumatised herself and her two young children.

One cannot help but wonder why, during this second raid, and with Mr Tupito in custody, the Police felt the need to be armed? 

Mrs Tupito has also spoken of the shame and humiliation in the face of other villagers at Siumu. 

For now, she is awaiting a report from the Office of the Ombudsman after lodging a letter of complaint last year. In fact she is complaining about the time taken for a response to be delivered.

When contacted by a Samoa Observer reporter, a staff member at the Office pointed out that investigations take time and can be delayed by a lack of responses from witnesses. And, Mrs Tupito’s complaint is no doubt not the only one being dealt with by the Office. 

And while it was not possible to get an updated comment from the Police Commissioner, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil, in the wake of the incident last year, he told the media that the police were armed but denied the officers pointed a gun at a child.

Without knowing all the finer details of the case, there are a few things that we do know.

One is that if you break the law – in this case by possessing marijuana, you may be searched, charged and taken into custody by the Police. 

Two, it is no secret that despite a recent amnesty on unregistered firearms during which a record number were handed in, there are still a large number in our community. In the case where illegal activities such as the cultivation or possession of drugs, it is not unheard of for firearms to also be found. So should our Police too be armed, just in case?

Three, the allegation that accepted Police procedures were not followed by the presentation of a search warrant, if true is troubling. Ad hoc and uncontrolled behaviour by the Police is not something the public is prepared to tolerate. Just as they expect us to obey the law; we too expect them to follow accepted procedures as written in their manuals. And there has been another incident, resulting in sharp criticism from the Ombudsman when the Police paid little heed to proper procedures and acted more in keeping with a TV police show from the U.S.A.

Four, Mrs Tupito says she felt frightened and threatened by what happened and that she and her extended family have suffered the humiliation of people looking at her as if she is a criminal. 

However, if she herself has not broken the law she has no need to feel that way. 

If however her husband did break the law, perhaps some of her anger and shame about what occurred should be directed at him for having put his family in this situation where the Police came to their home.  

By Marj Moore 11 July 2016, 12:00AM

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