FBI says US official in American Samoa lost part of left ear in machete attack over land

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Official lost part of ear in American Samoa attack

HONOLULU — A man arrested in American Samoa is accused of cutting off part of a U.S. official’s ear with a machete, the FBI said Wednesday.

Simeti Lualemana, 67, was charged with assaulting a U.S. government employee performing official duties, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, the agency said.

Mark Cunningham, station chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was attacked Monday while taking pictures of a house being built by Lualemana on NOAA-controlled land, officials said. Cunningham had previously told Lualemana the house couldn’t be located on the land.

Cunningham lost part of his left ear when he suffered a cut up to nearly 6 inches long to his neck, the FBI said.

Lualemana is accused of grabbing Cunningham’s shirt and attempting to strike him a second time with the machete, but Cunningham pushed him away and fled to a nearby NOAA facility while bleeding profusely, the bureau said.

Cunningham was treated at LBJ Tropical Medical Center, the only hospital in the U.S. territory, and is recovering from his injuries.

Lualemana will be transported to Honolulu for an appearance Friday in U.S. District Court, the FBI said.

He appeared Wednesday in territorial District Court on a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the public peace. But Assistant Attorney General Mitsy Folau said in Pago Pago that she will file a motion to dismiss the charge because the case is being handled at the federal level.

For the same reason, the territory decided against filing attempted murder and first-degree assault charges against Lualemana, she said.

American Samoa is located in the South Pacific, about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.

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