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For Whom the Bell Tolls — or WHOSE cell phone is ringing?

When the cell phone rang inside a court room at the District Court, during a hearing for an inmate, people were looking around as to who dared to have their phone on during court proceedings.


But to everyone’s surprise, inmate Sinapati Tuufaanatu was the one with the cell phone ringing which prompted District Court Judge Elvis Patea questioning from the bench TCF officers about whether inmates are allowed to have cell phones in their possession.


Tuufaanatu was taken into custody early last week for a public peace disturbance and he finally made his initial appearance last Thursday morning in District Court after the hearing was postponed once.


Dressed in the fabulous-jaw dropping orange prison jumpsuit, fit for a male run-way model, Tuufaanatu and his attorney appeared before Patea but a minute into the hearing, everyone heard a cell phone ringing.


The court marshal immediate stood up to look for the person with the cell phone to confiscate it, which is the CJ’s edict who doesn’t allow phones to be returned until a $25 fine is paid.  When the phone rang twice, witnesses - including a Samoa News reporter - saw Tuufaanatu reach into the pocket of his fabulous orange jump suit to retrieve the phone and give it to his attorney.


Upon completion of the hearing, where the defendant was held on a $500 bail, Patea questioned the TCF officer, if inmates held at the jail are allowed to have cell phones. The TCF officer answered “no”.


Samoa News reporter at the courtroom overheard the inmate telling the TCF guard that the phone belonged to his uncle and he was using it that morning to call his wife prior to the court session.


Responding to Samoa News questions, Police Commissioner William Haleck said anyone held in police custody is not allowed to have in their possession a cell phone. He also says inmates are searched prior to heading to court.


Haleck called back to Samoa News 20-minutes later saying that he has spoken to the TCF officers and learned that this particular inmate had used the uncle’s cell phone to contact his wife for money to post bail.


However, the inmate forgot to return the phone to the uncle, said Haleck, who reiterated that no inmate - in custody of police - should be in the possession of a cell phone, during a court appearance.


[Original Samoan version of this story was published in the Samoa News edition of Toasavili on Saturday]