Police were ambushed in marijuana raid Police say

A wounded officers uniform discarded in their raid vehicle

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA: Monday 7th May 2012: The police raid at 5.30am this morning on a suspected drug operation inland at Faleatiu village turned bad when three police officers were shot at and wounded in what Police have described as an ambush.

Two constables and a Senior Sergeant were treated at the hospital and discharged while one is still under close observation for the wounds to his chest. Police is working together with the Ministry of Health if the constable can have treatment overseas.

Police Commissioner Lilomaiava Fou Taioalo confirmed the casualities saying that whoever opened fire at the police “knew the police were coming.”

He said investigations are continuing and they are not ruling out strong suspicions that the raid information was leaked. He said sometimes, the suspects families use signals to indicate when a police vehicle is within Faleatiu village area.

“Sometimes they use bells or whistles to notify others that police were on their way,” said the Commissioner.

Although the Commissioner could not confirm the death of Rapi Vaili, a member of the family whose property the police raided, Vaili Palau, the head of the family, confirmed Rapi’s death.

Police to retrieve deceased’s body: The Commissioner also confirmed that they still had not identified the gunman that opened fire on the police. When he was notified of the situation, he ordered the mission be aborted. He said until they could see the body of the alleged victim, he could not confirm whether he died from police bullets or someone elses gun during the crossfire.

He also said that if the family refused to bring the body in for a post motem to identify the bullets which caused his death, “police will go back to retrieve the body.”

The Commissioner also clarified certain allegations aimed at them by the Faleatiu family of the deceased allegeing police mistreatment.

Speaking to the media this morning, Vaili Palau blamed the police for the whole incident. Vaili said that they are petitioning the Prime Minister for the police action on his family. He said that when the police arrived in the early morning, “they started discharging their guns” destroying his family property.

Another family member said that she was attacked by the police. Vaili also said that there was an agreement between the village and the police to let the village know when they were to raid any family in the village.

“That is not true, there is no agreement between the village and police,” said the Commissioner.

“If that’s the case, what’s the point of a raid, it be would be a total waste of time,” he replied.

The Commissioner said “the police never had a chance to leave their vehicles.”

He said as soon as the first vehicle turned into the family, someone started firing at the vehicle hitting the driver and two others inside the vehicle. More than 30 police officials went on the raid and only a few were armed.

“We did not go there to attack but given the history of the family, the guns were only for self defence,” said the Commissioner.

“The police only retaliated by firing back cover shots in self-defense while other officers tried to assist the wounded officers,” said the Commissioner.

“The police’s intention was to go there, give the family the search warrant and do their work,” said the Commissioner.

The only reason the Commissioner asked for permission to arm the team, was for their own protection. This was due to the fact that Faleatiu has a drug history and the family involved were known for their violent reactions to previous police raids which had cost another police officers life.

Under the Police Powers Act 2007 (13), police is allowed to be armed and are only endorsed to use the weapons for self defense.

Talamua has been told that the police acted on information and had planned the raid for sometime.

However, the incident this morning indicated that someone must have leaked the raid information.

This is not the first time a raid at Faleatiu involving the family had resulted in causalities.

Rapi is closely related to convicted drug dealer Tagaloasa Filipaina now serving a life sentence.

In this mornings raid, police were armed with shot guns and riffles but no vests and the Commissioner confirmed that there are no vests available for the police.