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Samoans Protest Killing of 2 Brothers : Police: Hundreds demonstrate in Compton to demand a criminal investigation of the incident, in which an officer shot unarmed men 20 times.

March 13, 1991|MICHELE FUETSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of Samoan-Americans gathered Tuesday in Compton to demand a criminal investigation into the shooting deaths of two unarmed Samoan brothers killed last month by a Compton police officer who was investigating a domestic dispute at their home.

About 400 protesters, some of them in traditional Samoan sarongs and flowing dresses, marched for an hour around the Compton police station and City Hall singing Pacific Island hymns about love and peace. The marchers carried signs bearing such slogans as "Who Will Protect Us," and "20 Times Equals Murder."

Autopsy reports showed that Pouvi Tualaulelei, 34, and his brother, Italia Tualaulelei, 22, suffered a total of 20 bullet wounds, many in their backs. Twelve bullet wounds were found on the body of Pouvi Tualaulelei, a warehouse worker for a Wilmington chemical firm. Italia had eight wounds. A scholarship student at El Camino College, he was a member of the football team and founder of the college's Pacific Islanders Club.

Police were summoned to the Tualaulelei family's North Grandee Avenue home by the elder brother's wife, Julie. She told Compton police that her husband had beaten her and driven off with the couple's two sons, ages 7 and 5.

Police and family members agree that Pouvi Tualaulelei returned to the home with the sleeping children in his car shortly after midnight Feb. 12 while Compton police patrolman Alfred Skiles was still there, and that Italia Tualaulelei came out of the house.

The Samoan community is angry over what it charges happened next.

At Tuesday's march and rally, 7-year-old Niles Tualaulelei carried a sign that said, "My Daddy Knelt. Why 12 Bullets."

A third brother who witnessed the shooting from the house has told the family's lawyer that the two brothers, on command from Skiles, were kneeling in the driveway when Skiles shot them.

Compton Police Chief Terry Ebert, who watched Tuesday's demonstration from the steps of City Hall, has denied that the two brothers were kneeling when Skiles fired his gun. The autopsy report shows that the direction of the bullets does not substantiate that charge, the chief said. Ebert has also said that Skiles told investigators that he fired because the two men attacked him and tried to take his gun away.

The autopsy report from the Los Angeles County coroner's office shows that 20 of the 21 bullets believed fired at the two men entered their bodies from several directions. Bullet wounds were found in the front and the back of the bodies, and in the limbs and heads. The bodies were lying face down not far from one another, but it is impossible to determine from the coroner's schematic drawings if the two men were kneeling before being shot.

The report also said that the shots did not appear to have been fired at close range, because no powder burns were found on the clothes of either man. According to the autopsy report, the elder brother had traces of cocaine in his body. The report said 21 shell casings were found at the scene.

Neither the Compton Police Department nor the Special Investigations Division of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has completed the investigations to determine if criminal charges will be filed against Skiles.

A high-level Compton police source offered other details about the shooting on condition that he not be identified.

He said that Skiles had reloaded his gun during the shooting, but that he had not emptied the gun before reloading. A magazine that still contained bullets was found at the scene. According to the source, Skiles accidentally pushed the button on the gun that releases the magazine and had to reload. The source declined to say how many bullets were left in the magazine.

The police source said that Skiles' shirt was torn and that investigators found buttons from the shirt at the scene.

In a brief interview after the rally, Julie Tualaulelei said that Skiles locked her in the back seat of his police car when her husband drove back into the driveway. She said the last thing she heard after Skiles went around the side of the house to confront her husband was the word "kneel."

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