Sergeant quits, breaks silence

A Police Sergeant who investigated the case, which led to the first lot of charges against the Police Commissioner, has resigned.

Sergeant Siripa Uelese, who interviewed and compiled a file of witnesses in the case where a member of the public was wrongfully arrested at the Fugalei Market, quit two weeks ago after she was suspended in the wake of developments involving the Police and the National Prosecution Office (N.P.O).

In breaking her silence during an interview with the Sunday Samoan, Siripa said she wants people to know the “other side of the story.” 

“In cases such as this, I always remember what a former Police Commissioner whom I worked under said to me, ‘Do right, and fear nobody’,” she told the Sunday Samoan. 

Asked why she resigned, she said: “I was suspended. They told me that they would investigate me but I was called back to work. Instead, I went and tendered my resignation.”

Siripa said she was suspended in relation to one of the cases she was handling, involving an officer close to the Police Commissioner.

She claimed, however, that there is far more behind the decision to suspend her. 

Which is why she has decided to speak up.

“What I hope to achieve is the truth to be told,” she said.

Siripa was deeply embroiled in the dispute between the Police Commissioner and the former Director of the N.P.O, Mauga Precious Chang. 

She had been working at the National Prosecution Office as an Investigation Officer. It was there she became involved in the Misa Suitupe case, where the man was wrongfully arrested at gunpoint at the Fugalei Market. 

An investigation by the Ombudsman proved this.

As the Investigation Officer who was there from the beginning, Siripa said there were developments, which saddened her. At one point during the hearing of the first lot of charges against the Commissioner, Siripa said she was they were looking for people who were present at the time the gun was pointed at Suitupe’s head. 

“I was shocked,” said Siripa. 

“How was that possible? I was the Investigating Officer and I prepared all the documents and statements of all the witnesses.”

She said all this was ready for Court.

“What I didn’t get was why this lawyer who is representing the A.G’s office is saying that they need to find witnesses when I already put together everything  from the beginning in a file." 

 “How can they say that there are no witnesses, when I was the one who conducted the investigation and compiled the file?"

“The investigation was the confirmation of statements of those who were involved in the case. The Ombudsman’s report was the foundation of the investigation,” she said. 

“My instructions were to confirm all the statements included in the report, including the victim (Suitupe Misa) and everyone who were at the market and witnessed what happened on the 18th of August, 2015." 

“This was a high-profile case and was a sensitive case as well. So it was really important that I protect the integrity of the case or else the police would run after them and intimidate them." 

“I had to protect the victim, protect the witnesses and most of all to protect the integrity of the whole investigation.”

She claimed everything that unfolded between the N.P.O, the A.G. and the Police Commissioner was the result of efforts to bring about justice in relation to what happened to Suitupe Misa.

Siripa also questioned the relationship between the Office of the Attorney General and the Police. 

She claimed that the former N.P.O Director, Mauga Precious Chang, has been made to pay the price for her efforts to see that justice is done to a member of the public who was wrongfully arrested at the Fugalei market.

According to Siripa, when the Police found out that the Commissioner was to be charged, “that was the same day police officers were at our office to arrest Mauga, over a traffic incident." 

“So when Mauga was suspended, I worked with Muriel on the case. And then later on Muriel was also suspended.”

Both Mauga and Muriel Lui have resigned from their positions at the N.P.O. following a Tribunal ordered by Cabinet.

For Siripa, she questioned why the Attorney General did not recommend to Cabinet for a Tribunal to look into the conduct of the Police Commissioner in relation to Suitupe’s case. She said this would have been the right thing to do.

Contacted for a comment, Lemalu rejected Siripa’s allegations in an emailed response. He said they are “false.” 

Asked why he did not recommend for a Tribunal to look into the Commissioner, Lemalu responded: “The Tribunal is a requirement of the NPO Act that was put in place when the office opened." 

“Therefore, when the Cabinet made its decision to form the Tribunal, it was in compliance with the law." 

“The Commissioner was suspended twice by Cabinet from his duties when he was charged as per the legal requirement that a commissioner who is charged be suspended, and the independent prosecutors were then given those files to review, so the law was followed as to the treatment of both parties.” 

Lemalu also rejected questions about his Office’s handling of the cases, including the case against Mauga Chang.

 “The police not the Attorney General’s office, investigated, charged and worked with the independent prosecutor in the case against Ms Chang,” he said. 

“The file was given to and remains with an independent prosecutor, Mr. Perese, and he has made all the final decisions and recommendations as to those charges." 

“Equally so, I had no part in the matters or decisions of the independent lawyers that handled the charges against the Commissioner.”

Lemalu added that the “purpose of assigning both Ms Chang and the Commissioner’s cases to independent lawyers was to remove this very suggestion, that this office or any government legal officials were specifically involved with the final decisions and recommendations for those matters. 

"That was the position to start with and is still the position now.”

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