Prisoners disabled communications system

The escaped prisoners who bolted from Tanumalala Prison on Monday night also managed to “demolish” the telecommunications system, turn off the main switchboard and steal a Police radio on their dash for freedom, the Police Commissioner has confirmed. 

Speaking on T.V.3 on Tuesday morning, Police Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil said the prisoners had likely been using the stolen radio to listen to Police communications all night. 

They also broke into the women’s cell block and attempted to break into the custody block but were unsuccessful. 

"According to my numbers, 36 escaped last night, out of the prison population of about 300 prisoners. Those in custody, awaiting their court cases, there's about a 110. So you're looking at about 410 people in there," said Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili.

Earlier in the day authorities had quoted figures suggesting 29 prisoners were involved in the escape. As at late Tuesday four prisoners remained at large.  

The then-Commissioner of the Samoa Prisons and Correction Services (S.P.C.S.) Taitosaua Edward Winterstein said the evening guards ambushed on their rounds in the prison, and were attacked with bricks, rocks and iron bars. 

He said their makeshift weapons had been around the prison campus for “landscaping” purposes.

“Four of the guards that were inside were seriously injured and of them, one was admitted into Acute 7 last night because he collapsed as a result of his injuries, and the others had their heads smashed with bricks, rocks and irons bars that [the prisoners] managed to find,” Taitosaua said. 

“One of the injured is a female. She was manning the main office […] they went into the admin watch house and they smashed all the telecommunications, the desks, computers, the cars, the windows and managed to get into the main admin building way outside of the prison complex […] where they turned the main switchboard off.” 

Taitosaua said he was shocked at the prisoners making their way to the administration building where the switchboard is, because he would not have expected them to know where it was given they were kept in their jail cells.

Taitosaua tendered his resignation following the breakout and it was accepted later on Tuesday. 

Tanumalala Prison was opened in June 2019, and cost $18.2 million. It was hoped the new ‘state of the art’ prison would put an end to frequent escapes, and complaints of poor living conditions by the prisoners.

But months later, notorious prisoners Lauititi Tualima and Aniseko Vaelei managed to break out.

“All these guys should be considered armed and dangerous,” Fuiavailili said of Monday’s escapees.

“These are bad guys out there and we don’t know their capability right now. Everyone is a little stressed right now, and this is the last thing we need, these types of folks roaming our streets.  

A shank, or makeshift weapon made of plastic cutlery (usually) was found on one apprehended escapee, and others managed to steal machetes from a prison storeroom. 

Among those to breach the prison gates was Simanu’a Manuele who killed two men with a machete in November 2018. His victims were 69 and 42-years-old.

“This gentleman here is a very dangerous fella, a double murder character, he killed two people at one time,” Fuiavailili said. 

“I am using gentleman here very loosely.”

The majority of the escapees were captured overnight, but another, Pauna Kalolo was captured near Fasitoo-uta on Tuesday morning. 

“We will probably go through and walk it right back and see where it went wrong, and address the issues from our internal investigation,” Taitosaua said.   

“Obviously there are things that need to be changed,” Fuiavailili added.

“There are methods of doing business and dealing with their regular work that need to change. Obviously when you have 50 prisoners in one cell block and only a handful of guards doing in unprotected and probably undertrained without the proper tools to do their work, this is the end result.

“We are very fortunate, it could have been much worse.”

The Police Commissioner said during the prison break, he watched prisoners fight not only the prison guards and Police officers but also each other. 

“It makes for a very explosive situation, not only that they see [each other] as enemies but also the guards as enemies. There are a lot of things that need a lot of attention, and that is one of them,” he said. 

The entire Police force of 700 officers has been enlisted into the mission to bring the escapees back to prison.

“We are thinking this thing through very carefully, prioritising our calls, prioritising our efforts and our resources,” he said. 

“When somebody calls 911 we should be able to respond appropriately, efficiently and quickly and man our critical sites like our airports, wharves, the prison, our hospitals, our Government buildings, our embassies.

Fuiavailili commended the work of the doctors and nurses in the emergency department on Monday night, which performed admirably under tough conditions, as well as the first responders of the Fire and Emergency Services Authority:“It takes a lot of guts to show up there, where it is explosive; it could have gone really bad.”

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