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Iosefa Fuimaono MIA when it came time for his court case

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Whenever the court releases an individual to the custody of Immigration, that means immigration has the responsibility to make sure those individuals are not hard to find. Now, the defendant is no longer under your custody and he’s also not present in court today, so, how are we going to find him?”

This was the statement from District Court Judge Fiti Sunia to an Immigration officer, when a young man was not present in court last Friday when his case was called.

Ioane Fuimaono is being charged with two misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault and public peace disturbance. He made his initial appearance in District Court on the first week of April 2018. Fuimaono’s immigration status expired June 2017, and for that reason, Judge Sunia ordered him to be released to the custody of Immigration.

“Where is your client?” Judge Sunia asked Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson. The defense attorney said he doesn’t know where this individual is.

“Our staff has been trying to locate this individual; unfortunately, they were unable to find him,” Anderson said.

Judge Sunia was seen shaking his head and smiling from the bench. He then referred to the file that was in front of him and said, “This individual was released under the custody of Immigration.”

Judge Sunia looked to the back of the courtroom where an Immigration officer was sitting and called him to come forward.

“Immigration, according to my notes, Mr. Fuimaono was released to your custody because his immigration status expired June of last year. Where is he?” Judge Sunia asked Immigration officer, Puni Paelo.

Paelo told the court Fuimaono was released after communication with his sponsor.

Judge Sunia was not happy with the response.

“People who are released to the custody of the Immigration office must be under the Immigration office’s custody, not on the road,” Judge Sunia told Paelo.

“It was your responsibility to look after this person, not release him to anybody else. Now, we don’t know where he is. The best solution for the court in Fuimaono’s situation was to put him in TCF, but we didn’t want to do that. That’s why we released him to your custody with the understanding that you will fulfill your responsibility as an Immigration officer. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.”

Paelo apologized to Judge Sunia and assured him that he will make sure Fuimaono is in court for his next hearing.

Judge Sunia did not stop there.

“He’s now an over-stayer but we don’t know where he is. You need to find him and make sure you place him under your custody,” Judge Sunia instructed Paelo.

Judge Sunia turned to the defense attorney and said, “The court will continue your client’s pretrial conference until June 15 at 9a.m. If he’s not present that day, the court will issue a bench warrant for his arrest.”

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