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Church minister from Samoa sentenced to probation for PPD

[SN file photo]
Translated by Samoa News staff

A church minister from Samoa, who entered the territory on a 14-day permit, has been sentenced to probation, after he pled guilty to public peace disturbance, a crime punishable by not more than six months imprisonment, or a fine of not more than $500, or both.

Selesitino Teofilo, who arrived in the territory on June 16, was taken into custody last Tuesday evening and charged with two misdemeanor counts of third degree assault and public peace disturbance. Samoa News was able to confirm, through members of the defendant’s family, that Teofilo is a church minister from a village on the island of Savai’i, Samoa.

Teofilo, who was released on his own recognizance following his initial appearance last Wednesday morning, returned to District Court for another hearing last Friday, which was also the date he was scheduled to return to Samoa.

While awaiting the start of court proceedings last Friday morning, a male member of Te’ofilo’s family approached a Samoa News reporter, who was already in the court room, saying in a loud voice — drawing attention from others — that the Samoa News reporter should not be in the court room reporting what’s going on in court to the public.

The male relative also told the Samoa News reporter to leave the court room and accused the newspaper of false news reports, referring to the first story published last Thursday in the Lali section of Samoa News. (The English translation of the same story was published in last Friday’s Samoa News.)

The Samoa News reporter calmly and very politely informed the male relative, that the newspaper’s story was based on the police report (which Samoa News used for both the Samoan and English stories) and if the male relative had questions, or any problems with the story, or in need of more information, to show up at the Samoa News office for a discussion, because the court room should be respected at all times by everyone and it is not the proper venue for such discussions. (The male relative never showed up at the Samoa News office on Friday.)

Samoa News sought the assistance of District Court Marshal, Maua Tupua, to calm down the situation before it got out of hand. Tupua informed Teofilo’s relative that his behavior was not appropriate and that the news media has the right to be in the court room and conduct their work. Additionally, there are no restrictions on the media attending court proceedings.

When court proceedings got underway and Teofilo’s case was called, District Court Judge Fiti Sunia was informed by both sides that a plea agreement had been reached in which the government has amended the third degree assault charge to public peace disturbance, while the original PPD count was dismissed.

For the guilty plea, under the agreement which was accepted by the court, the defendant admitted that he caused a PPD on the night in question.

As in all court proceedings, when the person enters guilty plea, the judge asks the defendant to explain what happened. Teofilo first offered his apologies to the court, and the government of American Samoa for his criminal behavior. He also apologized to the victim, who is also a relative.

Teofilo explained that last Tuesday night he got into a fight with “Ioane in Leone.” Sunia asked the defendant if he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fight, and Teofilo responded, yes, he was drinking.

Among the provisions of the plea agreement is that the defendant is sentenced to 12 months probation without jail time, but Sunia informed Teofilo that the final sentencing decision rests with the court.

Assistant Attorney General Woodrow Pengelly supported the defense's request for a probative sentence, saying that Teofilo immediately took responsibility for his action and agreed to plea guilty.

However, Sunia said the only reason the defendant was quick to plead guilty was because he was scheduled to return to Samoa last Friday, the same day he was set for sentencing. Sunia added that the court treats all criminal cases in the same manner, including defendants who are only visiting the territory for a short period of time.

The judge agreed to a probative sentence of 24 months, which includes several conditions. Teofilo is banned from consuming alcohol, and he is ordered to be a law abiding citizen. He must also attend and complete anger management counseling. 

Sunia reminded Teofilo that last Friday was the day set for him to return to Samoa and he must do so (It’s unknown if Teofilo will attend and complete an anger management counseling program in Samoa as part of the local court’s probation conditions.)

Teofilo was ordered to pay a $100 fine, and the judge ordered the defendant’s sponsor — who was in the court room — to pay the fine in case Teofilo couldn’t afford it.