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TCF van likely unsafe for prisoners— and the cops who are driving them

photo of the TCF van

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A look at the van used by the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) to transport detainees. At a glance, it looks decent. But closer observation reveals problems that question the safety of not only the detainees, but also of the DPS officers whose duty it is to transport them.

For detainees with breathing problems like asthma, this vehicle can be a death trap. None of the back windows open, so ventilation is limited.

Samoa News understands that about 12 detainees can be transported in the van at one time. But only the small window on the side door opens. The big window behind the driver's seat is boarded up with a piece of masonite. The same goes for the far back window on the passenger side. No air, no light.

The two windows in the front — driver and passenger — cannot be rolled up. So when it rains, as it has been this week, the driver and the front seat passenger (usually two TCF officers) get wet. Even if the windows were operable, they still would not be rolled up because the van's air conditioner doesn't work.

When there is a downpour, the guards have no choice but to sit on the drenched seats.

The space between the windshield and the roof leaks. Their remedy to the problem: a piece of masking tape. The leak can be a distraction for the driver and poses a serious safety risk to the passengers.

There is no side mirror on the driver's side and the interior rear view mirror is missing. That means, the two corrections officers who transport the detainees are at risk, because they cannot see what's going on in the back. If the detainees were passing contraband, planning to assault the driver or even jump out of the van, the driver and front seat passenger would have no idea and by the time they figure out what happened, it would be too late.

There is also no dispatch device so the guards can keep in contact with the proper officials. Any communications from the DPS main station, the TCF, and the courts — all have to be made through the guards' personal cell phones, using their personal prepaid credit (minutes).

And then: If there is an emergency, the van will not be able to rush through traffic because the siren doesn't work.

This week, the day after Christmas, Samoa News watched as close to a dozen detainees — each of them shackled — tried to squeeze into the van using the small side door (the other half of the two-door entrance cannot open).

 Samoa News cannot confirm how old this van is, or if there are any plans to purchase a much needed new one. But several sources have indicated that there are plans to purchase new vehicles for the DPS fleet — however the proposed order does not include the obvious need of the TCF.