High Court asked to suppress Yandall's statements made during police interviews
The Trial Division of the High Court of American Samoa has taken under advisement a motion to suppress statements made by 87-year old Joseph T. Yandall to police when they interviewed him twice — in November 2016 and on March 07, 2017.
The court has also taken under advisement a second motion, to reduce the bond amount from $75,000 to $45,000.
Yandall, who is out on $75,000 surety bond, is facing charges in a case involving two minor females.
He made his initial appearance in District Court earlier this year in May.
According to court information, Yandall is charged with one count of child molestation, a class A felony punishable by imprisonment of not less than 10 years and not more than 30 years. He is also charged with one count of attempted kidnapping and attempted sexual abuse in the first degree — both felonies.
During the hearing, the government called three Department of Public Safety police officers as their main witnesses, while the defense did not call any witness.
After the facts were presented to the court, the defense said it believes the way the police officers conducted their interviews with her client was not done properly, instead they were done in a way that made her client feel that he was under the custody of police officers, and he was not free to leave the rooms during any of his interviews.
It was revealed during the hearing that sometime in November 2016 two police officers went to Yandall’s residence in Iliili, to ask him if he could come to the police station to discuss a complaint.
DPS Officer Mafina Seva’aetasi was the government’s first witness — she was one of the two officers who visited Yandall at his home; and, according to Sevaaetasi’s testimony, the defendant did not answer when they first knocked on his door, but during their third attempt, Yandall answered and opened the door. The DPS officer said it was then that they asked the defendant to come to the Tafuna substation and he agreed to go.
When he arrived at the station, Yandall was told to wait in the Conference Room, where his interview was conducted by Seva’aetasi, who said it was then she informed Yandall about the purpose of the interview — that she was conducting an investigation into a complaint filed by a female victim against him.
DPS Officer Seva’aetasi said before the interview started, she first introduced herself to the defendant, and also informed him that he was not under arrest nor in custody of the police, and he was free to leave the room whenever he wanted to.
The court then heard that Yandall gave a verbal statement to the DPS officer about his side of the story, and it was at that time she made a decision to refer the case to the DPS Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
Detective Fiailoa Moafanua, who was the second witness for the government, was assigned to the case.
During her cross-examination, defense attorney Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde asked the witness about the type of training she has received during her 7 years as a police officer, and what type of questions she can ask during an interview with a suspect like her client. Seva’aetasi replied that she didn’t receive any specific training about how to conduct interviews with suspects, but she had received training during the Police Academy on how to investigate certain matters and the type of questions she can ask a suspect.
When asked by the defense counsel about how she started her investigation into the matter, Seva’aetasi said that it was after the first female victim filed her complaint against the defendant, and she went to her supervisor, DPS Lt. Letuli to ask permission to go to the defendant’s house and ask him to come to the police station to discuss the said matter — which he did voluntarily.
The leading investigating officer, DPS Det. Moafanua stated in her sworn testimony that it was on the morning of March 07, 2017 that she called the defendant for a chance to come to the police station in Fagatogo to discuss the matter against him. Yandall agreed and voluntarily came to the police station in Fagatogo for an interview.
When Yandall arrived, she said she asked Detective Poutoa I’amanu Jr. to assist her with the interview, which was carried out in the training room behind the Commissioner’s Office.
DPS Det. Moafanua revealed in her testimony that before the interview started, they introduced themselves to the defendant, and notified him about the purpose of the interview, before reading him his constitutional rights. The defendant said he understood his rights and he waived them before making a statement, and it was after he made a verbal and a written statement to police, that the defendant said he wanted to talk to his lawyer.
Tauiliili-Langkilde asked Det. Moafanua how she got her client’s cell phone number, and she responded that another police officer, Maria Penitusi, who worked together with the defendant on another case, gave it to her.
The government’s third witness Det. I’amanu confirmed what Det. Moafanua said in her sworn testimony.