U.S. Customs Blamed in Infant Death

Written by Brooks Baehr - bbaehr@kgmb9.com

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 06:49 PM

A family from American Samoa blames the U.S. government for the death of its two week old son.

They claim Michael Futi was on his way to a Honolulu hospital for treatment when he died while being detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at Honolulu International Airport. The family has hired an attorney and plans to sue.

Futi born with a heart defect, a condition doctors in American Samoa thought doctors in Hawaii could repair, but the families medical mission ended in heartbreak.

"If they would have let them come immediately, her (my) baby would have still been here," Futi's mother Luaipou Futi said through an interpreter during a press conference Tuesday to announce the lawsuit.

Luaipou Futi and her son flew into Honolulu with a traveling nurse early Friday morning. They expected a quick trip to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

"When they got to customs after about a three minute walk, there was apparently some problem with the visa waiver form for the mother," said attorney Rick Fried, hired by the Futi family to handle the case.

According to Fried, the Futis and the nurse were detained because of that "problem."

Fried said the Futis and their nurse had been kept in what they describe as an unusually hot room for about half an hour when little Michael began to have trouble breathing.

They said they tried to get help but the room they were put in was locked, and it took about five minutes to get someone's attention. An ambulance was called, but by then Michael was unresponsive and died a short time later.

"So if we add the times up, we have a delay of probably an hour of when this baby should have left the airport, and it's our position that the child clearly would have been in good shape in the time it would have been able to arrive (at the hospital). Why these people kept all three of them ... is just something we'll have to get into," Fried said.

Fried claims all the paper work to get the Futis into the country was finished before they arrived.

He said a visa waiver for Luaipou Futi had been approved and both Michael and the nurse have U.S. passports and should have had no trouble clearing customs.

He said the family plans to sue the federal government for contributing to Michael's death by preventing him from getting to the hospital where he could have received proper medical treatment.

KGMB9 contacted Customs and Border Patrol to ask why Michael and his mother were detained, but customs is not commenting.

Because Michael was an infant the Honolulu Medical Examiner needs several more weeks to determine cause of death.