Police brutality charge a black spot

This year has not been without its challenges in terms of the rule of law, respect for one another and peace and good order.

But thankfully the Samoa Police Service (SPS) has been at the forefront in 2019 ensuring crime is kept to a minimum, offenders are caught and processed by the courts, and there is peace and good order in the community.

You have to agree Samoa’s successful hosting of the 2019 Pacific Games in July this year, would not have been possible without the presence of the SPS and its policemen and women, who ensured the region’s largest sporting event was trouble-free and more importantly was a celebration of sporting excellence.

The continued involvement of the local Police in peacekeeping through the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has continued to give visibility to the SPS and bolster Samoa’s reputation as a member of the international community. The exposure also enabling participating police officers to gain professionally, through interaction and working in a multinational environment.

And then the public health crisis brought on by the measles epidemic, which was declared by the Government in mid-October and the state of emergency that followed a month later. The Police, again, with a critical role to play despite the risks to the policemen and women on the beat.

Therefore, the front page story titled “Police brutality, abuse of power” in the Thursday, December 19, 2019 edition of the Samoa Observer is a sad development for the Police.

District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papalii found Police Constable Tuitagi Momoe guilty of assaulting a suspecting at the Faleata police station in February last year.

The Judge also called for Police officers who gave evidence in support of the accused to be charged as she said they should be liable for “lying under oath” and covering up the crime by their colleague.

“We have here a prime example of police brutality and abuse of power in authority,” said Judge Alalatoa. 

“We also have here a gross breach of the Code of Ethics, evidence attest by defense police witnesses that you called to cover up what really went down at Faleata Police station on 9 February 2018 when these boys were arrested and brought in for questioning.” 

We agree with the Court’s ruling that the actions of the accused and the conduct of the police officers who were called as defense witnesses, is an abuse of power and a fall from grace by the Police officers concerned. 

In an age when police forces around the world continue to come under scrutiny, for police brutality and taking the law into their hands with total disregard for the rule of law, it is unacceptable that a local Police Constable has been found guilty of assault and harming a citizen.

Sadly, this matter will only lead to a loss of confidence by the public, in the ability of Samoa’s police officers to exercise restraint and acknowledge and respect the fact that a person remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

The Court should also be commended for highlighting the conduct of the defense witnesses – who by virtue of their employment as police officers – now call into question their integrity as officers of the law for “lying under oath”.

We believe these police officers should be charged for lying under oath in Court and dismissed from the Police.  

The coverage that this matter has garnered from the local media, would no doubt have been brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Police, Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil. We believe he will act and remove the bad apples from a Police Service, which continues to do a good job in protecting citizens and maintaining peace and good order.

On that note we accept that the machinery of government can often have teething problems and the SPS as a state agency is no different, especially at the height at the measles epidemic when it's all hands-on-deck to save lives from a deadly virus.

But those teething problems should not translate to citizens being denied access to justice and law enforcement, such as the case of Tiapapata-based couple, Dr. Penelope Schoeffel Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea. 

With Christmas around the corner, no one wants to become a victim of crime, and the Police can give citizens and residents renewed confidence in these difficult times that they have welfare at heart and their cases will be given priority by walking the talk. 

Stay safe Samoa and have a wonderful Friday.

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