Traffic stop for illegal license plate nets alleged meth charges for driver
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man is now charged with violating local drug laws after police officers discovered meth inside his vehicle during a traffic stop in Tafuna over the weekend due to the vehicle having two different license plates on it.
The government charged Barritt Siaumau with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony punishable by imprisonment of five to ten years, a fine of up to $20,000 or both.
Siaumau made his initial appearance in District Court where Judge Elvis P. Patea set his bail at a $5,000 surety bond.
Preliminary examination is now scheduled for Monday next week, Apr. 13th at 9a.m.
The government claims that on Apr. 4th about 5.09p.m, two police officers conducted a traffic stop in front of Cost-U-Less store after officers spotted a gray Ford F-150 license plate #3396 with no paper tag (lime green sticker), heading the opposite direction, so officers turned their police unit around and followed the vehicle.
It was then that officers discovered that the vehicle had a different license plate on the back — license plate #6791 and the license plate light was out. Officers requested the Dispatcher for a quick check on the status of the two license plates, with the Dispatcher stating via radio transmission that plate #3396 was expired.
Officers pulled over the vehicle and approached the driver of the vehicle to explain to him the purpose of the stop. Two male individuals were inside the vehicle when officers pulled them over, and the driver was later identified as Barrit Siaumau, the defendant in this case.
Officers told the defendant his vehicle had two different license plate numbers, one was expired (3396) and the one in the rear (6791) belonged to a different car. The defendant told police that he understood why he was being pulled over. The defendant also did not possess a valid driver’s license.
The two officers then impounded the vehicle and transported it to the Tafuna Substation, where one of the officers started issuing citations to the defendant for the violations and later informed Siaumau that he would need to conduct an inventory of the vehicle because it would be impounded, but released back after proper paperwork was completed.
An inventory search was conducted by several police officers and the defendant was also present to witness the search of his vehicle. During the inventory search, police observed a red plastic baggie inside a lighter socket next to the steering wheel and they showed it to the defendant and he just shook his head left and right and said he doesn’t know anything about it.
Officers brought the plastic baggie out from the lighter socket and showed it again to the defendant, who again shook his head, indicating that he didn’t know anything about it.
The officer, who discovered the plastic baggie, found it contained a white crystalline substance inside. He then handed the baggie to a police lieutenant, who contacted the DPS Vice and Narcotic and K9 Unit for assistance to further the investigation. The search of the vehicle was stopped at that time and the defendant was taken back inside the Tafuna Substation to await their arrival.
An hour later, two police lieutenants from the Vice and Narcotic Unit arrived to investigate the alleged drug case. Officers who conducted the traffic stop handed over the plastic baggie containing the white crystalline substance to the officers of VNU, who immediately took over the investigation.
The white crystalline substance that was inside the plastic baggie tested positive for methamphetamine.
The defendant was warned of his constitutional rights to which he acknowledged understanding the document and wished to make a verbal statement about the incident.
According to the defendant’s verbal statement to investigators, he placed his own vehicle license plate number 6791 on his brother’s vehicle so he could just move the car to his uncle’s place in Vaitogi but unfortunately he was stopped by police on the road and he admitted what he did was wrong.
The defendant also stated that during the inventory search of his pick-up truck, he was present but couldn’t see what the cops were doing, he was surprised when the officer that was standing by the door of the driver’s side handed a plastic baggie to the senior police officer and the senior police officer walked over to him and asked him if he knew about the stuff and he just responded that he didn’t know. The defendant further stated that he didn’t see what the cops were doing because the cop that was at the driver’s side door blocked his view.
Investigators interviewed the police officer who conducted the inventory search where he stated that the defendant had a clear view of the search because he was standing next to the other police officer.
Investigators also questioned a second police officer present during the inventory search, who confirmed that the defendant had a clear view of the search because he could see the defendant from the passenger door standing next to another police officer.
A third police officer also present during the search told investigators he asked the defendant what was inside the lighter socket and the defendant looked and told him that he didn’t know what was inside.