by Christopher Livingston
On February 23, a COD student and football player, Frank Tanuvasa, was shot and killed by authorities during a late-night break-in in Palm Desert. Tanuvasa, who was accompanied by two other men, allegedly attacked the officer as the trio fled from the scene.
The interesting thing is that The Desert Sun reports two different accounts of the same incident. On February 24, they mention that Tanuvasa is 6-foot-6, 370 pounds and was unable to be subdued with a taser. On March 10, it was mentioned that Tanuvasa was “more than 400 pounds,” dislocated the officer’s shoulder with his fist, and dragged the officer on the floor while trying to take his weapon from him. According to Sgt. Joe Borja, it was a “life or death struggle” for the officer.
Acquaintances on campus, on the other hand, think otherwise. At COD, Tanuvasa was remembered as a “gentle giant”; a student whose heart was just as big as his stature.
“They were the nicest guys on campus,” said Mary Jane Dante, a theatre studies classmate. “They would ask me if I did my homework and I would pretend to hide my paper and say ‘yes’.”
“They were very polite and sweet,” said Maria Magaña, an Admissions and Records clerk and co-worker with Tanuvasa.
In an e-mail, COD football coach Dean Dowty calls Tanuvasa “incredible” and says that he respected everyone and was caring towards friends, teammates and family.“[H]is parents should be proud of the way he conducted himself while at College of the Desert. He was a special kid and will not be forgotten by anyone lucky enough to have gotten to know him,” Dowty stated.
And in death, his parents are proud of him. His family mentions that the stories from the police are not consistent with her son; upon seeing him at the Akers Funeral Home in Riverside, Tanuvasa’s aunt, Esther Moala, told The Desert Sun that she noticed cuts on his hands and bruises on his knees.
“I know the police is putting everything on him, but I know my son,” said Nero Tanuvasa, Frank’s father. “If he knew something like that was happening, he would not have gone along.”
Tanuvasa’s hometown newspaper, The Anchorage Daily News, also took time to reflect on Tanuvasa’s life and his actions on the football field. While mentioning Tanuvasa’s aspirations of being an NCAA Division I football player, the newspaper also spoke to his former coach, who called him “cordial,” another gentle adjective for the man police shot in self-defense.
Tanuvasa’s body was flown to his native Alaska for burial.