Iosia Faletogo was fatally shot by police on Dec. 31, 2018. Photo via Facebook
                                Iosia Faletogo was fatally shot by police on Dec. 31, 2018. Facebook photo

Iosia Faletogo was fatally shot by police on Dec. 31, 2018. Photo via Facebook Iosia Faletogo was fatally shot by police on Dec. 31, 2018. Facebook photo

Samoan community reacts to fatal police shooting

Following the death of Iosia Faletogo, community leaders brainstorm creation of cultural home.

Shortly after 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers stopped 36-year-old Iosia Faletogo in Licton Springs’ Z Food Mart parking lot. An SPD post published on Jan. 3 stated that Faletogo had made an improper lane change; moreover, the license plate on the car he was driving indicated that its registered owner had a suspended license. The routine traffic stop then escalated into a frenetic chase when Faletogo ran from the car only to be followed by six officers down Aurora Avenue and North 96th Street before he was tackled to the ground less than half a mile later, revealed by a mashup of police bodycam and dashboard videos that were uploaded to YouTube.

“You’re going to get shot!” cops can be heard screaming during the chase and physical struggle, followed by a glimpse of Faletogo’s gun on the ground beside him while several cops hovered over him. Another officer shouted “He’s reaching,” to which Faletogo said in a muffled voice, “I’m not reaching.” A moment later, a gunshot rings out as SPD officer Jared Keller shoots Faletogo in the head, his body dropping limply to the ground.

The SPD post revealed that Faletogo was carrying $1,160 in cash and a vial with pills labeled as oxycodone but that were in fact fentanyl and the generic form of Tylenol. Faletogo also possessed a stolen handgun.

The fatal shooting came as a shock not only to Faletogo’s family, but to the tight-knit local Samoan community which Faletogo’s aunt Tiare Chanel said has been deeply affected by his death. “The shooting has brought a very dark cloud in my family,” said Chanel, a Tacoma resident. “It has impacted our community a lot … We feel that we’re just going to be part of the count of people of color that’s been conflicted with these issues.”

Chanel noted that she’s talked to mothers of Samoan origin in the area who now fear for their children’s safety, especially the kids who might appear physically large for their age. “A lot of the parents are worried about … their kids being home and them coming across police officers,” Chanel said. “How can we trust the system?” Chanel added that she believes so many officers were chasing her nephew because they were intimidated by his large stature at 6 feet 5 inches tall and 300 pounds.

Now Samoan parents are having conversations similar to those black families have had with their children for decades about protecting themselves when they encounter police, said Samoan community organizer Joseph Seia. (He is also a new commissioner on Seattle’s Community Police Commission, although Seia did not speak on behalf of the commission for this story.) “There is this very dominant narrative … there’s always size attached to it.” He referenced a history of deaths of Samoan men whom law enforcement or the media had described as “very large.”

Traditional mourning was also complicated by the manner in which Faletogo was killed, Seia said, noting that the head is “the closest thing to God” in Samoan cultural values. “Shooting somebody’s head is really declaring war against that family, it’s saying that they are not human, that they are trash, that they are animals. Culturally, it was a very harmful place for the family to see the wounds,” Seia said. The community also had to step up by donating money to the family so that the funeral home could complete the additional task of preparing Faletogo’s wounded head for the full viewing of his body, Seia added.

Locating resources and support to process their loss has also been difficult for those who knew Faletogo, given the small size of the local Samoan community. According to 2010 U.S. Census Data, Samoans compose 0.2 percent of the state’s population, with 13,110 residents. After the fatal shooting, Chanel and Seia realized there was a dearth of organizations to support and represent local Samoans during times of crisis.

Faletogo’s death hit close to home for many Pacific Islanders, particularly Seia, who had attended Seattle Public Schools with him. “It was really hard for us to organize as a community to come and mourn and support the family because there’s not a Pacific Islander social-service agency,” Seia said. After Faletogo’s death, community leaders hosted makeshift meetings in churches without the help of a strong alliance. In response, a few community leaders have begun brainstorming a people’s alliance in which local Samoans can convene to access mental-health or legal services following tragedies.

Although the potential organization is still in its nascent stages, Chanel noted that a cultural home would help increase the visibility of the Samoan community in the area. Such a nonprofit could also help counteract the negative stereotypes about Pacific Islanders that Chanel said she heard promulgated by the media following her nephew’s death. “He was always a warm nephew, and on the day that they laid him to rest, we saw thousands of people who were affected by this,” Chanel said. “It shows that the negativity didn’t really have an impact on him because he was all positive. He loved his community and family.”

MHellmann@seattleweekly.com


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Northwest

Kabal Gill, owner of East India Grill in Federal Way, wears gloves to hand over take-out orders at his restaurant on March 23. File photo
New guidelines for Phase 2 reopenings in King County

All workers will need to wear masks as restaurants, retail shops and other businesses reopen.

This undated file photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. Courtesy photo
Inslee wants nursing home residents and staff tested by June 12

Governor says state will pay for test kits and personal protective equipment.

New protocols set for Sea-Tac Airport

Strategy to ensure the health, well-being of passengers, visitors and workers

Stock image
Campgrounds to reopen in 22 Washington counties

Campgrounds in counties actively in Phase 2 of the reopening plan will begin to welcome visitors June 1, state says.

As sales tax plummets in King County, mental health and drug program funding dries up

County will need to make severe cuts to MIDD program this year.

File photo of construction near North Bend on Aug. 16. Sound Publishing file photo
                                File photo of construction near North Bend on Aug. 16. Sound Publishing file photo
Rural King County mayors want state to let them enter Phase 2

Mayors cite heavy economic damage from prolonged shutdown.

State Parks offers three free days in June

No pass needed June 6, 7 and 13

Auburn Mountain View Cemetery Manager Craig Hudson, center, confers with maintenance workers David Partridge, left, and Zach Hopper in March 2020. Sound Publishing file photo
State allows weddings, funerals, religious services to restart with restrictions

Gov. Inslee issues new rules during May 27 news conference.

Macklemore will perform as part of a virtual concert June 10 to raise money for All In Wa, a group formed to support people in need because of the COVID-19 outbreak. COURTESY PHOTO
Group launches All In Wa fund to raise $65M for COVID-19 crisis relief

Fundraising includes a virtual concert June 10 featuring Pearl Jam, Macklemore and others

Most Read