Man charged for aisa claims he was ‘Keeping Am. Samoa Beautiful’
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A passenger riding in the bed of a pickup truck arrested for holding an open beer bottle in his hand is now charged with unlawful possession of illegal drugs and intent to distribute after police officers allegedly found a medium sized baggie containing a white crystalline substance in his possession that he claims he found while picking up trash.
The government alleged that on the evening of Apr. 25th, a pickup truck was pulled over for a violation in a traffic stop. The vehicle was traveling at a high speed on the Nu’uuli road.
Officers approached the driver of the vehicle and saw that a male individual was sitting in the bed of the truck holding an open beer bottle in his hand. While officers were speaking to the driver of the vehicle, another police officer observed the male in the bed of the vehicle trying to hide himself, while reaching into the rear pocket of his pants.
Officers approached him and he identified himself as Alapati Tauga, a.k.a Pati Tauga, the defendant in this case.
Officers informed Tauga that it’s a traffic violation to sit in the bed of a pickup truck holding an open beer container in his hand. Tauga informed police that he did not know that his action was illegal. He further told officers that he would accept what ever decision they made against him.
Due to the fact that the driver of the pickup truck did not have a valid driver’s license on him, both the driver and the passenger, Tauga, were transported to the Tafuna Police Station (TPS) for further investigation. The pickup truck was also impounded by police.
Before the pair was transported to the TPS, a body search was conducted on both of them, as per protocol. Nothing was found on the driver, however, police felt a hard object inside the back pocket of Tauga’s pants, which he told police was his phone.
When Tauga pulled his phone out of his pocket, a medium baggie containing white crystalline substance fell from inside his pocket. Tauga bent down and picked up the medium sized baggie and handed it over to police officers after he was instructed to do so.
The white crystalline substance inside the medium baggie was tested and the result was positive for methamphetamine.
After being advised of his constitutional rights, Tauga informed officers that he understands his rights and he wishes to make a statement to clear his name about the illegal drugs. He told officers that while he was sitting in front of an Asian store not far away from his home, drinking his beer, he noticed a lot of trash lying on the side of the road.
He then stood up and started to pick up all the trash and threw it all inside a big rubbish bin located on the side of the Asian store. On his way back to where he was sitting, he noticed a medium sized baggie containing white power lying on the ground right next to the trash bin.
He picked up the baggie with white power and put it inside his pant’s pocket without knowing that the white powder inside was an illegal drug.
Tauga further stated to officers that he’s not a drug dealer, nor a person who smokes drugs. He only uses alcohol, not illegal drugs. He then apologized to officers for his actions and begged them for a chance to be released because the baggie does not belong to him.
Speaking of the open beer container he was holding during the traffic stop, Tauga told police that he was drinking his on the side of an Asian store when his cousin pulled up and called to come ride with him. His cousin told him to come to the passenger’s seat, but he decided to sit in the back — the bed of the truck —because he was drinking his beer.
Tauga made his initial appearance in District Court last week.
He’s charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, both unclassified felonies, punishable by imprisonment of 5-10 years, a fine between $5,000 - $20,000 or both.
Bail is set at $15,000.
The government called their only witness to the stand, Lt. Abel Penitusi, who is the lead investigator in this matter.
Working as a police officer for over 21 years, including 8 years with the DPS Vice and Narcotics Unit, Lt. Penitusi told the court that he received substantial training during the 1997 Police Academy and also on the job training on how to identify different types of illegal drugs.
Lt. Penitusi said that one of the things he focuses on during his investigations is whether the quantity of methamphetamine discovered is for personal use or not.
He said that based on methamphetamine’s current price in the market, the street value of the methamphetamine found in Tauga’s possession is about $800. He also determined that the methamphetamine allegedly found on the defendant is not for personal use.
In cross examination, defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender, Bob Stuart asked the witness to explain to the court the amount of methamphetamine that is considered to be for personal use.
Lt. Penitusi said based on his training and experience, small amounts of methamphetamine are for personal use.
Stuart fired back and asked the witness to describe to the court what he meant by “small amounts”.
Lt. Penitusi said he didn’t have an explanation about what is small amount is, but he can testify that the amount of methamphetamine allegedly found on the defendant is not considered for personal use.
“Did you find a scale on my client during his arrest?” Stuart asked.
The witness said, “no”.
“Did you find paraphernalia on any large amount of cash on my client?” Stuart asked the witness again.
The witness replied, “no”.
“So, the only evidence you have for the intent to distribute charge against my client is the medium sized baggie allegedly containing the amount of methamphetamine, which you said has a street value of $800,” Stuart asked.
The witness replied, “yes”.
Stuart argued that the government failed to present to the court a single piece of evidence to prove that methamphetamine allegedly found on his client was for distribution. He said that no paraphernalia nor a huge amount of cash was found on his client.
However, the court found probable cause to bind over Tauga’s case to High Court for arraignment.
Tauga is scheduled to appear on June 26 for his pretrial conference after he entered a not guilty plea to both charges against him during his arraignment yesterday in High Court.