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Long running dispute prompts deportation after neighbor attacks neighbor

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Sadly, land the two fought over does not belong to either of them.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In the sentencing of a 49-year-old man from Samoa convicted of assaulting another man, the government attorney stated to the court that there are many non-violent ways to settle disputes in American Samoa, and wielding a machete is not one of them.

Filemoni Tagaleoo had just been convicted of using a machete to cause severe injuries to another man over a fence on the boundary of the land where the defendant and the victim’s families live.

The incident erupted when the two men fought over the fence on the boundary of the land with each man claiming it belongs to him. According to statements from other family members, the dispute between the two families started over 10 years ago.

The outcome of this long fight has brought a huge negative impact to the lives of the families of both men, with the victim now facing a severe permanent disability making him unable to provide for his wife and kids. Meanwhile the defendant was ordered by the court to depart the territory and remain outside of its jurisdiction for a period of 5 years, leaving behind his wife and 6 young children.

The sad part of the story according to other family members is the land the two men fought over does not belong to either of them.

Tagaleoo appeared in Court last week for sentencing. He was initially charged with a class A felony first-degree assault, which carries a punishment of life imprisonment or at least 30 years in jail.

But under a plea agreement with the government, Tagaleoo pled guilty to the lesser felony charge of second-degree assault, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years, or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

With his guilty plea, Tagaleoo admits that on Apr. 22, 2019 while working at his plantation behind his house, he struck Opetaia Faalogo three times with a machete causing him severe injuries.

When he was given the chance to address the court, he apologized to the court and the people of American Samoa for his actions and asked for forgiveness. He also apologized to Mr. Faalogo, who was the victim in this case, and asked his family to please forgive him for his wrongdoing.

Tagaleoo took a few minutes to explain to the court his side of the story about what happened the day of the incident, which apparently began when Tagaleoo discovered that Faalogo had planted his banana and taro beyond the fence that divided their land, which is the boundary.

Tagaleoo removed all the banana and taro Faalogo planted on his land and threw it back to Faalogo’s land. He then continued on with his work at his plantation.

The following day when he went back to his plantation, he found out that Faalogo had planted his banana and taro on his land again. He then noticed that Faalogo was inside his plantation.

According to Tagaleoo, he then did the same thing, removed all the bananas and taro Faalogo planted on his land and threw it on to Faalogo’s land. He also called out to Faalogo and his family to stop trespassing on his land, but he heard Faalogo’s response, telling him that he (Tagaleoo) is not the owner of the land.

According to Tagaleoo, he did not respond to Faalogo’s statement, however, Faalogo (the victim) suddenly ran toward him and punched him in the face, causing him to fall down and hit his head on a rock. Faalogo also kicked him in his back and stomach. “I felt dizzy and became unconscious when Lio punched me but I woke up after my head hit the rock,” Tagaleoo said.

“Once I was conscious, the first thing that came into my mind was the machete that I was holding. I then grabbed the machete and struck Faalogo three times, on his foot, his shoulder and then his body. It was not my intention to strike Faalogo, but out of fear — that’s why I used the machete.”

Tagaleoo told the court that he was a hard-working man for his family. Two of his children are serving in the military while his other daughter is now serving God’s mission off island, leaving him, his wife and his three younger children — his twin sons who are at Level 10 at Tafuna High School, and his 12-year-old daughter at their home. His daily routine is to drop his daughter at school before going to work at his plantation, because his plantation was the way he earned money to care for his family.

Tagaleoo’s attorney, called the defendant’s wife to the stand, who asked the court to please forgive her husband and release him to care for their family. She said her husband is the right hand man of their family. She further told the court that their family has already performed a traditional apology to Faalogo’s family over here and also in Samoa where Faalogo’s parents reside, and the apology was accepted.

The court asked Mrs. Tagaleoo to tell the court where her husband had worked before and she said he used to work at the wharf for a company responsible for unloading containers.

The court said the reason why the question was asked was because Immigration informed the Probation Office that Tagaleoo has a P-4 status, which specifies “special skills labor”.

“Do we have a shortage of stevedore workers on island?” the court asked the government attorney. The government attorney said he could answer that question at a later time, as he currently doesn’t know.

The defense attorney asked the court for a probated sentence, saying that his wife and children really needed the defendant to go back home to work on their plantation to feed them. He further told the court that his client has no prior criminal record.

The government attorney on the other hand asked the court to sentence the defendant to a term of five years probation, under certain conditions, and that he has to serve a period of detention. The prosecutor also asked the court to order the defendant to depart American Samoa and remain outside the territory for the period of his term of probation.

The prosecutor told the court the government believes that the defendant is truly remorseful for what he did, but said that there are many non-violent ways to settle a land dispute in American Samoa, and with a “machete is not one of them.”

The prosecutor further told the court the it appears that the defendant was trying to justify his actions by saying the reason he used the machete to strike Faalogo was because he (Faalogo) first punched him hard in the face.

“The government believes that the defendant’s action was not self-defense but out of anger,” the prosecutor said, adding that it was the defendant who first started the dispute after he removed Faalogo’s bananas and taro.

During sentencing, the court stated that this matter occurred when two men fought over land which resulted in a criminal act.

The court then sentenced Tagaleoo to a term of imprisonment of 5 years and a fine of $5,000. Execution of the sentence is suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for 5 years under certain conditions he has to follow:

He has to undertake a period of detention of 20 months in prison, without any release unless by order of the court. Tagaleoo is credited with the 16 months he has already served while awaiting the outcome of his matter. That leaves him with only 4 more months of detention.

Upon release, the defendant shall depart the territory and remain outside of its jurisdiction for the period of probation.

With the issue of no air or surface transportation due to the Governor’s State of Emergency restrictions for the COVID-19 virus, the defendant will remain in custody upon serving his period of detention to await the time the borders is open between the two Samoas.

The court has ordered the defendant’s sponsor to pay the fine of $5,000.