2nd Lomu case in court — two separate cases, two separate incidents — all drug charges
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The preliminary examination (PX) for the second defendant from the case where police raided two homes in Pago Pago last May and allegedly found illegal drugs ended last Wednesday, with District Court Judge Fiti Sunia finding probable cause to bind 6 charges over to High Court for arraignment, while the other 2 charges were dismissed.
The government has filed two separate criminal cases against Merika Lomu.
In the first criminal case, Lomu is being charged with four counts, including unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine with intent to distribute; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana with intent to distribute, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, all class D felonies.
These charges stem from a controlled buy that happened on April 15, 2018.
In the second case, Lomu is being charged with four counts, which are also the same charges she faces in her first case.
These charges, however, stem from an alleged incident that occurred on May 15 of this year, when armed detectives from the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit searched two homes in Pago Pago, and found the defendant inside one of the homes with another male individual, with illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.
After reviewing evidence of the case, Sunia stated that the government was unable to present probable cause and sufficient evidence to bind counts 1 & 2 in the first case, of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine with intent to distribute; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine.
Therefore, the two charges have been dismissed.
The defendant has been in custody since she was arrested on May 15, unable to post a $30,000 cash bond. However, following her PX last week, Sunia then ordered that her cash bail would be reduced down to a $15,000 surety bond.
Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while private attorney Marcellus T. Uiagalelei represents Lomu.
During last Wednesday’s PX hearing, the government called one witness, Police Det. Justin Thomsen who led the investigation in this case.
Thomsen testified that it was around February this year when a ‘confidential informant’ (CI) provided some solid information to the Vice & Narcotics Unit, regarding Lomu being involved in selling illegal drugs, mainly marijuana in the village of Fagatogo. Thomsen also stated that the CI allegedly witnessed Lomu selling marijuana, while she (Lomu) was also in possession of methamphetamine at the same time.
After receiving this information from the CI, the Vice & Narcotics Unit then arranged for a controlled buy so that they could get more solid evidence to charge Lomu.
Thomsen said police used the CI during the controlled buy, but did not reveal the place where the controlled buy took place. According to the witness, the controlled buy took place “on the east side of American Samoa.”
The CI was first searched by police for drugs and weapon before the money was handed out for the mission, according to the witness.
Sunia asked the witness, who owned the money that was used for the controlled buy. Thomsen replied, “It was my personal money.”
“Why did you use your personal money?” Sunia wanted to know.
Thomsen stated that it was their policy.
“Who made the policy?” Sunia asked. Thomsen responded, “We decided among ourselves that we would ...”
Sunia cut the witness short and immediately asked him another question, “Who is the ‘we’ you are referring to?”
Thomsen replied, “We, police officers of the Vice & Narcotics Unit.”
Sunia then told the government’s attorney to continue with her questions for the witness.
“How much did you give to the CI for the controlled buy?” Dunn asked the witness. Thomsen replied it was $30.
The CI then called Lomu on a cell phone and asked for drugs. Lomu told the CI to wait while she checks with a person by the name of “Jun”. According to Thomsen, “Jun” is another nickname for Sio Godinet Jr.
Godinet Jr. was one of the co-defendants in Lomu’s case, but his case was dismissed by Sunia without prejudice last Wednesday when the court did not find probable cause to bind his case over to the High Court.
Lomu called the CI back and confirmed the place where they should meet. Thomsen testified that he witnessed the CI going to the vehicle, which Lomu and several individuals were in. The CI handed the money to Lomu. Lomu then took the money and allegedly handed over a baggie with marijuana inside to the CI.
The vehicle was later identified as belonging to Godinet Jr., who was inside his vehicle along with Lomu and other individuals during the time of the money exchange for drugs.
After the controlled buy was conducted, police officers then asked the court for a search warrant for the two-story structure belonging to Godinet Jr. The search was conducted on May 15 where police found drugs and paraphernalia inside a room on the first floor of the two-story structure. Lomu, along with a male individual were also found inside this room by police.
Drugs found included 10 grams of marijuana, a huge amount of methamphetamine, and paraphernalia such as 4 glass pipes with methamphetamine inside, 2 glass pipes with marijuana inside, several empty small baggies, cut straws and cash.
During cross-examination, Uiagalelei wanted to know from the witness where the controlled buy took place. Just for safety reasons, Thomsen said he could not reveal the specific place where the controlled buy took place.
“What is the name of the CI you keep referring to,” Uiagalelei asked the witness. Thomsen response, “I cannot reveal his identify.”
Sunia intervened and told the defense attorney that he understands his point, however, the court also needs to look at the safety of the CI in this case. For that reason, Sunia prohibited the witness from revealing the identity of the CI.
The defense cross-examination then continued.
Uiagalelei asked the witness whether the CI was ever trained to identify illegal drugs, and how long police had worked with this person. Thomsen testified that it’s been a year since police have worked with this CI, and this person was never trained to identify drugs.
Judge Sunia said the hearing is to determine if there is sufficient evidence and if there is probable cause to try the defendant in court. He then ruled that the court is satisfied with evidence presented by the government that a crime was probably committed.
Lomu entered a not guilty plea to all the 6 charges against her, when she appeared in High Court last Friday for her arraignment. Her pretrial conference is now scheduled for Oct. 5, 2018. The defendant is now remanded into custody unable to post her bond.