Governor Fitial-Prisoner Masseuse Take-out Story Goes Global

January 16, 2010

Outrage against Governor Fitial continues on blogs and in the community concerning the governor's request to have his masseuse released from jail to give him a massage. The 28 year old Chinese woman was charged with human smuggling on January 5, 2010. The federal district court denied her bail.

The story has made newspapers, radio and television news shows from Honolulu, to France, being picked up by over 1,500 news outlets.

The AFP featured the story, with the headlines, Pacific Islands governor in hot water over prisoner massage. Asia One News also covered the story:
The governor of the US-administered Northern Mariana Islands is feeling the heat after ordering the temporary release of a jailed suspect to give him a massage.

Benigno R. Fitial, the most senior politician in the western Pacific territory, demanded Chinese masseuse, Qing Mei Cheng, be set free on January 8 to treat him for back pain.

The masseuse was taken from the local prison, where she was being held on people smuggling charges, to the governor's mansion before being returned to jail...

Fitial, who won re-election for a second term in a run-off election in November, made headlines late last year when he had to drive himself around after his driver was convicted of dealing drugs from the official car.
Department of Corrections May Also Be in Hot Water
According to court documents, Judge Alex Munson "ordered “no bail”, without prejudice. Court remanded the defendant back into the custody of the U.S. Marshal until further order of the Court." It appears that only the Court can make a decision about the release of the prisoner and not the CNMI Department of Corrections officials (Capt. Arnold K. Seman, Capt. Georgia Cabrera, Officer Abigail Camacho and Commissioner Delores Aldan) or Governor Fitial.

In July 2009 it was reported that the Department of Corrections was calling for the end of the Consent Decree that was imposed on the department and prison facilities for violating the civil rights of the prisoners. The consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice forced the CNMI to construct the adult prison facility after they witnessed deplorable conditions in the old facility. The new jail opened in February 2008 in Susupe.

The consent decree also called for adequate staffing, and training of personnel in professional corrections practices.

According to a July 2009 Saipan Tribune article:
The commissioner said DOJ is now satisfied that the CNMI is now operating according to the standards in the United States.

“So by Sept. 15 we are moving in. (U.S. District Court for the NMI) Judge Alex Munson is happy to announce that we are going to be lifted on that responsibility,” she said.

San Nicolas said she is urging that consent decree must stop because DOC cannot move on as long as it is under DOJ's control.

“Consent decree is telling you that you do not know how to operate a prison,” she said.

On the manpower shortage issue, San Nicolas said it is mandatory to assign 18 personnel per shift at DOC.

She said all designated areas must be posted and that corrections officers cannot leave their posts.

“So sufficiently we are running out of lack of manpower at this time. We're only sufficiently covering 13 per shift. And that's a liability,” the commissioner disclosed.

San Nicolas said she is against the previous DOC's administration's decision to incorporate detainees into the adult prison facility.

“To me it's not right,” she said, explaining that detainees have different rights than inmates or convicted persons.

San Nicolas said with the insufficient budget to meet DOC's goals, she recommends sending all the prisoners off-island.

“And why is that? Because we don't have sufficient programs at this time to accommodate all these criminals,” she added.
It's interesting that the commissioner said that the "consent decree is telling you that you do not know how to operate a prison", that it is "mandatory to assign 18 personnel per shift at DOC, and that "corrections officers cannot leave their posts." I wonder if pulling three officials away from DOC to accompany a prisoner to the governor's house put the number of personnel at the prison under the mandated 18 per shift, or if any of these officers left their posts.

According to a Saipan Tribune article, CNMI Attorney General Edward Buckingham "held a key role spearheading the federal prison consent decree compliance. Buckingham also has served as counsel to the departments of Public Safety and Corrections, as well as counsel to the CNMI Board of Parole." He certainly should be familiar with conditions of the consent decree and policies of the DOC. How will he defend what took place last week?

Department of Corrections Commissioner Delores M, San Nicolas was nominated by Governor Fitial to the position in June 2009 and she was confirmed in July 2009. The governor terminated former Commissioner Lino Tenorio in March 2009 for "not being loyal" because Tenorio announced that he would run for mayor as an independent rather than as a Covenant Party candidate.

Other problems have also plagued the department. In February 2009 the DOC was sued by the former chief operating officer for not paying the balance of a contract that was terminated in 2005. In June 2009 Jenny Palacios wrote a letter to the editor alleging that her son, Jake Palacios, was beaten at the jail by two corrections officers. From her letter:
While in there, two correction officers were assigned to monitor the safety of my son. Instead of ensuring his safety, the two officers assaulted and battered my son. He was strapped to a chair and slapped around. My son was slapped not only with their hands but using handcuffs as a weapon to slap my son's face. As this was happening, he said he was threatened to be poked in the eyes with their fingers. The sergeant's last words to my son were, “This prison is mine; I can do whatever I want.” The other officer hit him a final time and left him with blood dripping from his ears. He was left alone for about an hour in the isolation room.

Is this what happens to our children when they are placed in the custody of corrections officers? This institution is supposed to be in compliance with the Department of Justice's consent decree mandate for order, health, care and safety requirements. The two officers who used excessive force and brutality on my son are a ranking sergeant and correction officer II.
The OAG charged the two officers, Corrections Sergeant Arnold Kaipat Seman and Corrections 11 Manuel Quitano, with assault and battery and misconduct in public office. In September 2009 the court dismissed the charges against the two officers:
Chief Prosecutor Kevin Lynch made the decision to drop the charges. Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham concurred with the decision.

The government had charged Seman and Quitano with assault and battery, and misconduct in public office. Quitano was also charged with obstructing justice.

Lynch said the Commonwealth believes this criminal case should be dismissed so that all of Seman's and Quitano's actions can be addressed by one adjudicating body rather than having two somewhat parallel proceedings: the Superior Court and the DOC administrative process.

“Upon dismissal of this action the Commonwealth will be referring the matter for the commencement of formal action within DOC,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the acts complained of happened during an incident when a belligerent inmate was not compliant with the rules of conduct regarding detained persons.

He said the prosecution believes the conduct of the officers also did not conform to the rules governing the conduct of Corrections officers in their dealings with inmates.

Lynch said DOC has administrative procedures in place to address actions of Corrections personnel that violate the standards of conduct imposed by Corrections rules and regulations.
So what did the DOC do to investigate the allegations and to make the offenders accountable? Nothing? I guess the officers were not suspended or disciplined because Arnold Kaipat Seman was one of the officers who accompanied the prisoner to the governor's house. In fact, Seman was promoted. According to the Saipan Tribune he was a sergeant when he was accused of assaulting the prisoner and he was a captain when he escorted the Chinese masseuse to Fitial's house. I was informed that this officer is the governor's nephew, but I am unable to confirm the rumor.


Anonymous said...

I believe that Seman is related to the governor. What I want to know is how he got promoted after beating up a prisoner?

Anonymous said...

How can Buckingham defend Fitial? He doesn't seem like a dumb guy. He is going to make a fool out of himself. Time for the US Dept. of Justice to CHARGE FITIAL and the DOC employees.

Anonymous said...

RECALL! RECALL! RECALL! Who has the petition? Anyone? Can we post it please?

Anonymous said...

The federal court muat act because our Congress will not.

If the Governor can pull anyone out of federal protection on his orders, then no citizen is safe here. If the Governor walks on this, then he could have anyone in the CNMI pulled out of their hme in the middle of the night because "the Governor said so".

The correction officers invloved should be held accountable and the CNMI AG must prosecute everyone.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:45 what crap you are saying. That will never happen here, we are not a police state. Stop this rumor mongering. .

Anonymous said...

noni 10:55 -No that may not happen, but another official could pull out another prisoner for what he thinks is a great reason. This needs to be stopped now.

Anonymous said...

This matter has shown that the source of the problem is beyond DOC... it is up on Capital Hill in the Governor's Office and the Attorney General's Office.

We have met the enemy... and the enemy is......

Anonymous said...

To those begging for a recall petition, steel yourselves seriously over the following points:

1) the recall petition's earliest filing is in May and it requires 40% of qualified voters, so about 6,000 people.

2) this places the recall question on the ballot in November, along with the Delegate race, however, it will take 2/3 of eligible voters who voted for the occupied office. For the Fitial recall thus, it would take about 10,000 people to vote against him, or an erosion of 3,500 people who supported him in the run-off.

3) At which point, you are left with Inos.

Dunno how likely this scenario really would be.

Anonymous said...

I thought that one of the DOC people involved in the "beating" of the kid was an inlaw of the Gov.

Anonymous said...

No recall will happen. No resignation wil happen. And no impeachment will happen. It will all be wishful thinking. People in the CNMI are not easily swayed to rock the boat. Let all the governor's jealous detractors have field day while they can. This fiasco will end soon.

Anonymous said...

If Arnold Kaipat Seman, one of the the officers who took the prisoner to Fitial's house, is the governor's relative or in-law AND he was promoted after beating up a young inmate then this story has become even bigger. DOC needs to be investigated. Is DOC still under a consent decree? Will the judge take that into consideration?

Good investigative reporting here!

Anonymous said...

"this places the recall question on the ballot in November,"

Not true. A special recall election, can and most likely will be held if 6,000+ registered votes sign a recall petition.

At this point it is about the principle and people being held accountable... even if we end up with Howard as Governor, this one needs to be held accountable. No slap on the wrist for such a crime!

Anonymous said...

Your "Chinese takeout" graphic is crass and racist. "People are not commodities," remember?

Saipan Writer said...

We're getting hysterical here.

I'm not sure how likely it is that there will be major ramifications from this, beyond the publicity.

There may be some need to answer in federal court, but there is no really great forum for recourse for something this unusual.

The criminal case against the woman is a forum for justice for her and the people on the charges leveled there. Unless the feds can show that Fitial pressured her relative to that case, the Court may not be interested in his shenanigans or able to address them in the case.

Nothing that happened seems to fall within the provisions of the Consent Decree dealing with the jail or to violate it, so there is no quick contempt remedy there.

Our Legislature will assuredly not act.

There is no recall petition that would be timely.

Perhaps the MOU between DOC and the US Marshall Service provides a vehicle for consequences. I hope so.

But really, we may just have to continue to joke about Chinese Take-Out in the CNMI, because laughter is the only recourse to the shame and disgrace of this Governor.

Anonymous said...

If the investigation determines that Fitial received a "Happy Ending Massage" then he should be charged with sexual assault. If convicted, perhaps he can bunk with his former Lt. Governor, Vilagomez in prison. Fitial is in a position of trust and has no business asking for the release of a federal prisoner.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 6:13:

The graphic was meant to remind people exactly that. The prisoner should never have been taken out from her jail cell to fulfill the needs of the governor. Pain is absolutely no excuse. There are dozens of other people who do massage. I don't care how many people claim now that this woman is n alternative medical practitioner, unless she has a license she is a masseuse. And regardless, no person, even the governor, has the right to take a prisoner out of jail, especially when the judge ordered she remain there with no bail because she was deemed a flight risk. The excuses coming out in his defense are plain ridiculous and it's as if he ordered takeout and we are all crazy people for thinking it is an absolutely ludicrous act.

Anonymous said...

What's the big deal? Ben and Eloy get massages at all the major hotels on this island. For free I might add and the cheap asses don't even leave tips. What's a free massage from the Grey Bar Hotel going to do to this Emperor without clothes?

Wendy said...

Saipan Writer (Jane):

Your perspective, as always, it appreciated and wise. I read the consent decree and posted a link. There appears to be several areas (the ones I pointed out) that may raise concern. The fact the DOC officials would follow the order of the governor surely must be completely against regulations and proper prison protocol. If it isn't, it should be. That is unless we are applying another set of rules (as one commenter suggested in another post) for the CNMI. I think that happens too many times and that is one reason that labor abuses were perpetuated for so long. People made excuses and after a while it becomes an accepted norm, and all of us who cry for reform are the "crazy" people. I think in terms of what the consequences would be if this event took place in the mainland, not in a place where the public routinely turns a blind eye to corrupt, abuse of power or abuse of people. I know that heads would roll if this happened in the states!

The excuses are silly and offensive. It would be so much better if the officials stepped up and admitted it was wrong and they made a totally inappropriate decision instead of continuing to say that the woman "practiced alternative medicine", "the governor was in pain", etc. What's infuriating is that the commenters that support the governor are attacking those of us who would like laws followed and support prisoners' rights like we are saying this because we are anti-Fitial. Who cares who did it? It was wrong on many levels and for many reasons!

Anonymous said...

noni 3:42... please cite your assertion, as the CNMI Constitution speaks very specifically to any recall question, after the 40% petition threshold is met and verified by the AG, being placed on the ballot for the next general election. The recall language is very short and I see no mention of the use of a special election. This places any recall on the November 2010 ballot.

Anonymous said...

Hey Wanda, If you are really concern about Human Rights Abuse, why don't you investigate Marianas Variety for not paying their employees? This is your favorite newpaper, Wanda...

Anonymous said...

Let the federal government prosecute the 'DISHONARABLE Governor Begnino Fitial'. That's why the federal needs to take over...Remove all of this administration from Fitial, Inos, and anyone associated to them....Our local legislatre are just as corrupt like Fitial/Inos

Anonymous said...

Read more carefully


"c) A recall petition certified by the attorney general shall be submitted to the voters at the next regular general election unless special elections are provided by law for this purpose."

Recall is very different than a public initiative to alter law. This would more than warrant a special election!

the teacher said...

The girl is on an umbrella permit, or a midnight fraud against the US.

How can anyone claim their basis for being in Saipan is the last minute umbrella, and being on one is an admission of immigration fraud.

Anonymous said...

speaking of the variety, you all do realize that this is not the first time Fitial sprung this woman. See front page today.

Anonymous said...

The explanations from DOC commissioner dont make sense, I dont really understand the law, but i surely understand that is you are trying to get approval and no one coul take your call.. THEN IT SHOULD BE AS SIMPLE TO EXPLAIN TO THE GOV. THAT SHE COULDNT DO ANYTHING.. IM NOT GONNA BE SUPRISED IF SHE WILL REMAIN IN THE CABINET. TO MAKE IT WORSE.. SHE IS IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE INDIGENOUS BUT LOOK WHAT SHE IS DOING.

Anonymous said...

Now I wonder why the Governor was against the search from the inbond flight from china.. can someone verify if Lin is also a passenger...