Justice Vui Calls for Better Police Interview Processes


Updated 8am Sun 13 Dec 2020. Justice Vui Clarence Nelson took issue with police interview processes when an abused woman, eight months pregnant who had collapsed at the police station, was brought back from the hospital to Police Headquarters for a statement at 1:30am in the morning.

The issue emerged during the Supreme Court hearing of five defendants facing narcotics related charges.

Ana Fuimaono (Vaiusu), Esther Tani (Tufuiopa), AJ Roache (Lotopa), Stuart Tuitama (Faleasiu), Pitoitua Aloese (Faatoia) and Sanele Schuster (Alamagoto) were all arrested when police responded to a domestic violence complaint on boxing day last year.

One accused, Pitoitua Aloese has since pleaded guilty to possession of narcotics, methamphetamine and illegal weapons.  The other five accused maintained their innocence throughout the week-long trial before Justice Nelson.

At the time of the arrests, Police confirmed that, “We responded to an incident of Domestic Violence and found what appears to be crystal meth and cannabis, as well as two firearms”.

On the 5th day of trial last Friday morning, Court proceedings focused on defendant Esther Tani; whose mother had placed the 911 call to Police on the night of December 26th, seeking help for her daughter who was being beaten by her partner, Pitotua Aloese.

Ms Esther Tani was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident.

In better spirits, Esther Tani with her baby outside Court, October 2020. Photo: Maina Vai.

Ms Tanis mother took the stand and told the Court that she had called Police for help when she visited her daughter at Faatoia that night, and heard her screaming out for help.

Defense counsel Unasa Iuni Sapolu told the Court that her client should never have been interviewed on the night of the arrests. She said her client was distressed and heavily pregnant.

Taking the stand on Friday morning was Constable Siatuvasa Faletoi who had witnessed Esther’s statement in the early hours of December 27th.

Unasa asked Constable Faletoi if there was a process to follow when interviewing a person who has been beaten and abused. The Constable answered, No.

Ana Fuimaono and Esther Tani outside Court, Feb 2020 Photos: Maina Vai

Constable Faletoi admitted that Esther had collapsed while waiting to be interviewed that night. She confirmed that Police did take Esther to the hospital, however, she was then brought back to Police Headquarters for a statement, in the early hours of December 27th.

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson also directed questions to Constable Faletoi, wanting to know if there was a process or special procedure applied by Police when interviewing abused, pregnant women. The Constable answered, No – everyone taken in to make statements are treated the same.

In obvious disbelief Justice Vui again asked the Constable; outlining the circumstances of a woman eight months pregnant, abused and in pain, who had also collapsed while in police custody..

Constable Faletoi said she was only following instructions from her leaders.

“That is amazing!” said Justice Vui when the Constable told the Court that the pregnant woman was brought back to Police Headquarters at 1.30am for an interview.

Justice Vui said: “E lei ae se tofa ia te outou ole tina maitaga lea e 8 masina lona maitaga, ma sa fasi ma leaga lona tino ma matapogia, pe le tatau ona faamalolo sei usu atu i le isi aso?”

“Didn’t any one of you think that a woman who is 8 months pregnant, with injuries, who had also fainted, should not be given time to rest?”.

Justice Vui then stated that lessons ought to be learnt and  told the Constable that he would be making recommendations to the Police Commissioner.

“I will make a special recommendation to the Commissioner of Police, on how the police should handle cases like such.. there should be a special procedure they ought to use, to interview people like this pregnant young lady”.

“E aoga mea e tutupu mo taeao. E tatau ona iai se faiga e tagai iai leoleo i le faatalanoaina o tagata e pei o le tinā maitaga lenei.”

Commissioner of Police and Prisons Su’a Fuiavailiili Egon Keil. File Photo: Maina Vai.

Asked for a response, Police Commissioner Su’a Fuiavailiili Egon Keil said he acknowledges the concern of the Supreme Court Justice and confirmed that there are systems in place within the Domestic Violence Unit of the Samoa Police, dedicated to investigate DV cases.

“There are established guidelines and laws for all officers to follow on the various types of investigations they face on a day to day basis, which also includes DV cases; and the treatment of suspects, victims, and witnesses,” said Su’a.

The Police Commissioner says continuous education is another key priority for Police and one of the ways to address such lapses.

“There are continuous enhancement courses from time to time on new policies, procedures, and statutes; and new recruits are taught in the 15-week police academy on many police requirements;

“However, if everything else fails them…there is always common sense”, added Commissioner Keil.

Marieta H Ilalio