Police Superintendent Tu’ungafasi Polelei Falakiseni has escaped being sacked, but has been reduced to the rank of Chief Inspector of Police.
The Police Board reduced his rank because of his involvement in the escape of American Dean Jay Fletcher, who was being held following the death of his wife.
Fletcher was arrested on 9 July 2016 and taken to the Magistrate charged with the crime of Manslaughter. The Magistrate ordered that Fletcher be remanded to Police custody to be brought to court on July 11, 2016.
Fletcher had tried to flee once before but managed to escape from custody and sail to American Samoa on his yacht.
Fletcher had been in a cell, but was moved to an interview room one night due to an influx of prisoners.
Falakiseni gave orders for the transfer and meant it to be for one night only, but did not check that it had been carried out properly. Fletcher escaped on September 29, 2016.
Fletcher sailed to Pago Pago, American Samoa. The Tongan government requested his extradition, but this was denied. He was then transferred to Hawai’i and another request to have him returned to Tonga was also refused by American authorities.
Following an investigation into the escape, several police officers were reprimanded and Falakiseni was issued with a Notice of Loss of Confidence on October 16, 2017. He was also warned that the Police Employment Committee was considering terminating his employment.
The PEC said Fletcher’s escape from Police custody was directly linked to Falakiseni’s “negligence, lack of judgment, lack of direction and oversight.”
It said Fletcher had been put into the interview room even though Fletcher was a high risk poriosner.
“Fletcher’s yacht Sea Oak was not properly secured and his passport, cash and credit cards were not properly secured.
“The escape has caused huge embarrassment to the Tonga Police, the Government of Tonga and the Kingdom of Tonga. Further, the deceased’s family is still deprived of the justice for the brutal murder of their loved one. “
Falakiseni admitted the allegations made against him and said he wanted to apologise.
On July 13 this year the PEC change its mind and sought to reduce Falakiseni in rank rather than sack him.
The Committee said there had been no corruption and that Falakiseni had been honest and co-operative during the investigation. It also took into account his unblemished record of 34 years of service.
The PEC said it also acknowledged his “loyalty and ongoing commitment to his job and the Tonga Police despite knowing PEC’s intent to terminate his appointment in the earlier decision.”
The Chair of the Police Board, Justice Cato, ordered that Falakiseni’s rank be reduced.
However, he said the board did not agree with the PEC’s desire to reduce Falakiseni’s salary as well, saying this would be a double punishment. He would therefore continue to receive his existing salary.
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