Cop escapes conviction over sticker scheme

A suspended Police officer – who handed a warrant of fitness sticker he did not own to a colleague for use in his vehicle registration – has been discharged without conviction.

Senior Constable Maanaima Patu was discharged without conviction by the District Court last month over a charge under the Road Traffic Ordinance 1960 Act relating to vehicle registration. 

He was instead fined $500. The amount was to be paid within 14 days. 

Represented by Mauga Precious Chang, Patu was accused of knowingly possessing a warrant of fitness sticker for someone else’s vehicle.

The judgement states that another Police officer Tafeaga Silva, who is no longer with the force, was presented with the sticker and used it for his own vehicle registration. The court heard Silva believed the sticker was the property of Patu. 

The court heard that the sticker was in fact the legal property of Nuu and Sootaga Kilifi of Manunu, who had lost the sticker one evening in August 2016. 

According to the summary of facts presented in court, Patu knew that the use of the sticker by Silva on his vehicle would deceive traffic enforcement officers about the details on the sticker. 

In considering the aggravating features, Judge Matautia Raymond Schuster said there was no evidence from the prosecution as to how the defendant came into possession of the sticker.

This is despite the fact that the complainant asserts that he either lost it or it was stolen from inside his vehicle.

“I had rejected the defendants’ version that he had found it lying on the ground, just outside the car park metres from the entry doors of the General Policing Division, elaborated in my written reasons finding the defendant guilty of the charge,” said Judge Matautia.

“Whatever the facts may be, I am required to be neutral but the defendant is only criticised for the fact that he did not deal with the sticker in the manner that he should have, given his experience.

“As a Police Officer, a higher standard is expected of you to uphold your oath to discharge your duties according to law.

“The added fact that the offending occurred inside the Apia Police Headquarters compound may have brought disrepute to the reputation of the Police Department is also an aggravating factor.”

The court accepted the defence lawyer’s submission that the accused is genuinely remorseful, given the impact of the incident to his family.

Judge Matautia pointed out there is a real likelihood that the defendant’s current employment may be terminated.

He described Patu’s action as a grave error of judgement on his part given his experience and clean police record.

He added that the offending and circumstances seemed uncommon.

“As I had indicated earlier, this is a serious offence because of the implication of a maximum penalty of 10 penalty units or two (2) years imprisonment,” he said.

“However, in consideration of the conduct of the defendant in the offending, I find that it was predicated on a grave error of judgment given his experience, impeccable Police record and high regard from a senior Commissioned Officer of his peers.

“If I am correct that this be the first case of its kind, I am inclined to show leniency and mercy on the defendant.”

Judge Matautia said he is reminded that the sentencing method is limited to the offending provision the defendant has been charged and found guilty of.

“Having considered the facts and circumstances of this case, I have assessed the defendant to be relatively at the low end of re-offending,” he said. 

“Although a reward is not an element of the charge it is relevant for sentencing. 

“I find that the defendant had not made any substantial commercial gain from the present offence which speaks of his spontaneous and poor judgment in this instance. 

“He has a good work history and is commitment to return to work subject to the determination of this matter.”

Judge Matautia said he concluded that the gravity of the offending was at the low end of the spectrum.

He also added that a conviction would result in the accused’s 20-year unblemished career in the Police service automatically be brought to an end. 

“It would be difficult for the accused to find another appropriate job,” he said. 

“Inevitably, he and his family who depend on him will suffer financially as indicated in his wife Fuatino’s letter. 

“I have come to the conclusion that the consequences of a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of his offending. 

“The defendant is therefore discharged without conviction and ordered to pay Police costs of five hundred tala ($500) within 14 days from the date of this order.”

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