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Man allegedly involved in shotgun incident over car parts

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man has been arrested, accused of assault and unlawful use of weapons.

Mao Skelton has been charged with felony crimes of Assault in the first degree, unlawful use of weapons (2x) and prohibited weapons.

Assault in the first degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment of not less than ten years; the unlawful use of weapons charges each carry imprisonment of not more than 5 years and a fine of up to $5,000 or both; and the prohibited weapons count carries imprisonment of not more than 7 years and a fine up $5,000 or both.

Bail is set at $100,000.

He was arraigned in District Court on Apr. 19, 2023.

Skelton is alleged to be involved in an incident involving a shotgun, when the victim came to his house to get back car parts — a security box and computer — Skelton had allegedly borrowed.

The incident was reported on Dec. 18, 2022 at the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS) by a man, Punaloa Atofau and his two nephews, Tafaevalu Mano and Sipai Mano (brothers). Tafaevalu was identified by police as the victim of a shotgun incident, while Sipai was a witness to the incident that happened in the village of Vaitogi.

EMS was contacted by TPS to treat the victim as he had blood on his right facial area toward his right ear. Tafaevalu was treated by EMS, but refused to be taken to the hospital for further treatment.

Tafaevalu was interviewed and explained that on Dec. 18, 2023 around 1pm he went with Sipai to Vaitogi to “retrieve car parts of his that was [sic] borrowed by Mao Skelton.”

According to Tafaevalu he was given permission by Skelton’s wife to get the parts and remove them from their (Skelton’s) vehicle.

When they got to the house, Tafaevalu was told Skelton (defendant) was not at home however he learned otherwise when he saw and overheard a male individual at the Skelton house call to Skelton and Skelton answered. That’s when Tafaevalu went behind the house and got into a verbal argument with Skelton.

Around this time, Skelton “came out from the room with a 12 Gauge Shotgun and aimed it directly at him;” and fired it at him slightly hitting his right ear.

“The victim explained that he thought he was gone (dead) … that the gun was placed right in front of his eyes. The victim stated that the defendant then started to load the gun again and it was an unknown male who came from the room and stopped the defendant.”

Tafaevalu further explained that the defendant’s wife came and asked him if he was okay and helped him to the car, whereupon they went to their uncle’s house.

Sipai, Tafaevalu’s brother and witness to the incident, told police that “he saw his brother standing in the garage, and also the defendant who walked out from a room with a silver 12 Gauge  Shotgun’” who aimed it straight at his brother and fired. He then saw Skelton “rack the gun again,” and a guy pulled him back, “and that’s when he yelled out to the victim (his brother) to get out.”

According to the court affidavit, police responded to the report of the incident and went to Vaitogi on Dec. 18, but were not able to locate Skelton, nor the alleged weapon involved. However, they were able to examine what appeared as a gunshot that went through the driver’s side door of a vehicle parked in the garage that had “ricocheted toward the roof behind the passenger side.”

A follow-up investigation on Dec. 28, 2022 with the DPS Records Office found that no firearms were registered under Skelton’s name.

On Dec. 30, Skelton and his wife walked into the Fagatogo Police Station to ask about the incident and he was told at that time “he is not under custody and that he may leave whenever he wants to;” and that he didn’t have to answer questions if he didn’t want to and he “may stop the questioning at any time.”

The defendant agreed to be interviewed and “denied pointing a shotgun at the victim” [Tafaevalu]. He did admit he was mad at the victim because he was trespassing at his wife’s house and on her land, on a Sunday, and added “that he is ashamed because the victim and witness are like young siblings to him.”

Skelton’s wife was also interviewed, the court affidavit noted, “and she stated that nothing happened, and stated they don’t have a gun.”

Police later went to Skelton’s home to take photos of the vehicle they had seen in the garage and found it parked outside with “all the covers for the car’s doors and roofs [sic] were being removed.”

The court documents did not explain when he was arrested or why he was not arraigned until this month. The court documents do show they were received by the District Court on Mar. 23, 2023, with the same date shown on the Warrant for Arrest and Order to Appear, and the Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint.