Court condemns "Police brutality, abuse of power"

A Police officer has been found guilty of assaulting a suspect at the Faleata Police station in February 2018. 

Constable Tuitagi Momoe was ordered by Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papalii on Wednesday to remain in custody until he is sentenced in January next year.

Judge Alalatoa described the actions by Momoe, together with three other officers who gave evidence in his defence, as a prime example of “police brutality” and “abuse of power” by those in authority.

The District Court Judge also called for Police officers who gave evidence in support of the accused to be charged. She said they should be liable for “lying under oath” and covering up the crime by Constable Momoe. 

“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 defence 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.” 

The victim in the assault by Momoe was young man identified as Peresetene. He sustained cut and injuries to his ears, chest and body, the Court heard. 

The victim was taken to the Faleata police station together with his brother and another man for an alleged burglary and theft incident at Nu’u in 2018. 

According to the evidence before the Court, the suspects were later charged by Momoe and were remanded in custody for a month and two weeks. 

The charges against the men were later withdrawn in the Supreme Court due to insufficient evidence. 

Prior to that, Peresetene was allegedly assaulted by Momoe at Faleata when he continued to deny he had no involvement in the burglary and theft. 

Judge Alalatoa said it is fair to say that by the time the men were taken in for questioning, Momoe did not have sufficient evidence to link them to the crime. 

“And it was under that same belief Tuitagi that you brought them back with hope to interrogate them,” she ruled. 

“By that time, you were nowhere near solving your case with these young men concerned and you saw the opportunity to interrogate Peresente thinking he was drunk as you claimed. 

“You took him with one other officer at the back of the room where Peresente was brutally assaulted continuously. When he failed to be cooperative, when you were unsuccessful in coercing a confession from him, you assaulted him to the point where he blacked out.” 

Judge Alalatoa said the worst part about the case is the attempt by other officers equally of authority to cover up for Momoe by appearing in Court and “blatantly lie in the evidence”.  

She pointed out the officers also turned a blind eye to injuries sustained by Peresetene 

“You assaulted him and thereby breaking the law under the guise of interrogation,” said the Judge. 

“Your whole motive to interrogate the suspect from the start and the arrest of the three men was highly suspect…” 

 About the three police officers that testified for Momoe, Judge Alalatoa said she found their evidence completely unbelievable and lack of credibility. 

He described their evidence as a “selective memory of the events as it suits the story” of Momoe. 

“They insisted that Peresetene was drunk and that there was no assault, he was allowed to go to sleep before he was interviewed,” she said.

“But as officers of the law I am appalled they went against their sworn oath to protect one of their own, and equally appalled by the lack of the sense of justice to do what is right on your part and to stand by citizens of this country that you [had] sworn to serve.” 

The Court heard that the assault on Peresetene came into light after his parents visited him at the Tafaigata several weeks after he was in custody and saw the injuries on the victim. 

It was then they filed a complaint with Police where the case was only processed after a year later and resulted in Momoe being charged in April this year. 

In relation to the injuries sustained by Peresetene, Judge Alalatoa said the proper charge for Momoe should have been actual bodily harm instead of assault. 

She reminded the accused that the Court will not standby let those in authority restrict the rights of the public. 

“Police brutality I must tell you is the practice of the past, and any officer who continues to condone it and practice should be prepared to face the Court,” she said. 

“Those who are brought to your custody are human beings and have rights under the Constitution.” 

 Judge Alalatoa told Momoe that his offending has “tarnished the good work of other police officers especially the Police Commissioner who has zero tolerance to such abuse of power”. 

Momoe will be sentenced on the 13 January 2020 and is remanded in custody. He was appointed as a Constable in 2014. 

Attorney General’s Office lawyer, Iliganoa Atoa, was the prosecutor. 

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