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Siaumau trial: Sounds of gunshots; but no positive ID on shooter

Thomas Siaumau

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two government witnesses revealed during the first day of Thomas Siaumau’s jury trial, that they heard multiple gunshots on the night of Dec. 14, 2017 near Tafuna Elementary School. One witness said it sounded like a “Faga Ofe” (bamboo cannon) while the other said it was clear to her that it was gunshots.

Siaumau, who has been held in custody without bail since his arrest last year, is charged with first degree assault; first degree attempted murder; corruption of a juvenile; two counts of unlawful use of a weapon - all felonies - along with three misdemeanor charges of public peace disturbance, third degree assault, and unlawful possession of a weapon.

A six-member jury, four females and two males, was selected this past Monday.

The government called five witnesses during the first day of trial: three police officers and two school teachers.

The government’s first witness was one of the two officers who responded to the call on the night in question. Faatiu Lepou shared with jurors his side of the story, similar to what counsel Dunn said in her opening remarks. (See Samoa News issue, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019)

Lepou testified that he and his partner Officer Leomiti responded to a call regarding children throwing cherry bombs at the ASTCA compound in Tafuna.

When they approached the area, they heard gunshots near the baseball field, that’s behind Tafuna Elementary School (TES).

The government’s second witness was a school teacher from (TES) who told jurors that around 9pm on the night of the alleged incident, she and her 18-year-old went to the school to pick up her laptop she had left inside her classroom.

She was inside her classroom when a police officer came over to check if everything was okay, and asked why they were at the school late at night. According to the government, the officer who spoke with the teacher was Lepou.

The witness testified that immediately after she spoke to the cop, she heard a loud sound. "I told my son, oh, must be a “Faga Ofe”, but when I heard the second sound, I thought to myself, that is not a sound of a Faga Ofe, that is gunshots.”

After she heard the second sound, the witness told her son they needed to get out of the compound. It was too close for comfort.

As they were driving off campus, the witness said she heard another sound of gunshots.

During cross examination, defense counsel deSaulles asked the witness whether she saw anybody around the compound after she heard the sounds. The witness said no, she "didn't see anybody around.”

The government’s third witness, also a school teacher, shared the same story. She stated that while sitting on a rock wall on the other side of TES with two of her cousins on the night of the alleged incident — around 10pm — she heard gunshots being fired from the back of the baseball field, not far from where they were hanging out. She said it was clear to her that the sounds were gunshots.

She said a police truck pulled up and instructed them to leave the premises right away, and they complied.

When Dunn asked the witness to describe the sound she heard, the 24-year-old school teacher said it was “sharp and loud”.

On cross examination, deSaulles asked the witness if she ever saw anybody shooting a gun around that area after she heard the gunshots. The witness said no.

“During that whole entire evening, I never saw a person with a gun or someone shooting a gun around that area,” the witness told jurors.

The government’s last witnesses were the two police officers who assisted the lead investigator: Capt. Lima Togia and Sgt. Misi Leo.

Both shared the same testimony before the jury.

Capt. Togia, who heads the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit and also oversees the Tafuna substation, told jurors that 20- 30 police officers were called to assist with the investigation, which started on the morning of Dec.15, 2017. And during the investigation, they found live ammunition and empty bullet shells (9mm and 7.26mm) scattered around the crime scene.

They also discovered a gun magazine — or a clip — mainly for an assault rifle which contained live ammunition.

The defense wanted to know from the witness how the instructions were delivered to all police officers involved in the investigation, on how to handle the evidence.

Capt. Togia said, “The instructions were clear, once you discover evidence, contact us and then our special team, who deal with collecting the evidence, will immediately respond by taking photos, marking them and placing them inside the bags using gloves. The instructions were very simple.”

He added that during the investigation, they discovered that the light bulbs on one of the light poles near the baseball field was also shattered.

deSaulles asked the witness if they ever checked on the light bulbs, to confirm if the damage was new or not.

Capt. Togia said their investigation was based on the resources they had.

“The safety of our police officers was our main priority and because we don’t have a long ladder, no one was able to climb on to that long light pole … we can’t do that,” Capt. Togia told jurors.

deSaulles wanted to know if there were any fingerprints collected from all the evidence they gathered during the investigation. Capt. Togia replied, “No.”

The trial resumes at 9am today.