Police respond to a PPD call — bust three men for marijuana
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Last week, the preliminary examination (PX) for the case against three men accused of unlawful possession of illegal drugs when police responded to a public peace disturbance call, in Iliili, took place, with District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea finding probable cause to bind the case over to the High Court, despite strong objections from defense lawyers concerning the lack of a search warrant.
The three defendants are Sefulu Mika Kelemete, Allen Snow, and Faainu Tuavale. They are all charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; marijuana, a felony punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than ten years and a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $20,000, or both.
Kelemete and Snow are representing by Assistant Public Defender, Hannah Whyle, while Tuavale is representws by private attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei. Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey is representing the government in this case.
All three defendants were released from custody after they each posted a $5,000 surety bond subject to several conditions, including non-possession of any controlled substances and not consuming any alcohol beverages.
All three defendants appeared in High Court last Friday for arraignment, where they all entered not guilty pleas to the single charge filed against each of them.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse set the pretrial conference for each of the defendants for July 05, 2019.
Kruse added one special condition for each of the three defendants.
For Kelemete and Snow, Kruse ordered them to sign into the Public Defender’s office every Wednesday — no later than 10:00 am, while Tuavale was ordered to sign in at Uiagalelei’s office, every Friday — no later than 10:00 am.
Kruse also ordered that the defendants are to submit themselves for random testing upon the demand of any Probation officer or police officer, to make sure they are in compliance of the ‘stay clean’ condition of their release.
The Chief Justice instructed the defense attorneys to make sure they monitor their clients with the sign-in condition of the court.
During last week’s PX, the government called one witness, Police Det. Samantha Lam Yuen who led the investigation in this case.
According to Lam Yuen, it was Apr. 06, 2019 when the Tafuna Substation received a called from a concerned citizen, regarding a public peace disturbance (PPD) from a resident in Iliili. Lam Yuen said that according to the caller, she heard people shouting and its seem like they are having a party at the resident.
Lam Yuen and two other police detectives — Det. Justin Thomsen and Det. Tavake Foma’i — from the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit responded to the call.
When they arrived at the area the caller had described, Lam Yuen stated that they noticed a house on the other side of the road where a light was on with people gathered at the house.
They proceeded to the house, and Lam Yuen said that she saw two men sitting at a table, while another man was making his way to their police unit. The man who approached their police unit was later identified as defendant Kelemete.
Kelemete asked the three police officers for the reason they had entered his premises, and Det. Thomsen explained to him they had come is to investigate a public disturbance said to come from his house.
According to Lam Yuen, Kelement told them that they have no right to enter his land nor search his home. Kelemete also told them that if they were there to search his place, they needed to show him the search warrant.
Lam Yuen said Det. Thomsen told Kelemete that they were not there to search his place, but to investigate a call of a peace disturbance.
According to Lam Yuen, it was during Kelemete and Det. Thomsen’s conversation that she smelled something unusual.
“What did you smell at that time?” the prosecutor asked Lam Yuen; to which she replied, “I smelled marijuana.”
Furthermore, Lam Yuen said that one of the regular parts of her job, as a police detective is to investigate cases regarding illegal drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamine.
According to the government’s witness, Det. Thomsen asked Kelemete if they could walk around his house to observe, before they headed back to the highway.
It was during that time when Kelemete turned around and called out to the two men, who were sitting at the table to look for the stuff on the table.
According to the government’s witness, as soon as the two men heard Kelemete’s statement, they both stood up and started to act. However, the police officers were so quick and they all rushed to the table and discovered drugs.
Lam Yuen told the court that she allegedly found marijuana seeds on the table, along with a plastic container containing a plastic baggie containing green leafy substance inside. Based on her training, she identified it as marijuana; and she further tested the green leafy substance at the Tafuna Substation and it turned out positive for marijuana. The green leafy substance inside the plastic baggie weighed 12 grams.
All three men were taken to the Tafuna Substation for questioning.
When asked by police, Kelemete stated that the green leafy substance found at the house did not belong to him.
Co-defendant Snow told police that he went to Kelemete’s house to hang out with him before police arrived.
And the other co-defendant Tuavale told police that he does not know anything about the illegal drugs. He said he had just gone over to Kelemete’s house to play a game. He also admitted to police that he smoked marijuana with Kelemete and Snow, but he doesn’t know who owns the drugs.
After being interviewed by police, all three men were booked and later transported to the Territorial Correction Facility (TCF).
During the PX, defense attorneys argued that the alleged drugs were found on the table, nothing was found on any of the three defendants. They also argued that there was no search warrant to search the premises.
However, after reviewing all the evidence presented by the government, Patea stated that the court was satisfied with the evidence. He stated that based on the government witness’ testimony, it was clear from the beginning that police officers responded to a peace disturbance case, however, illegal drugs were allegedly discovered later on.
Patea stated that there was sufficient evidence to bind the case over to the High Court for further proceedings.