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American Samoa courts deal with busy schedules

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man charged with conspiracy to commit stealing - a felony - is scheduled for a jury trial Jan. 19, 2020. During a status hearing last week before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia, attorneys from both sides confirmed that they are prepared for Tala’i Alesana’s jury trial.

The court has set Dec. 12, 2019 as the deadline to file any last minute pleas if both sides agree to an offer, to avoid the case from going to a jury. The single charge against Alesana - who is out on a $5,000 surety bond - stems from an incident last year whereby a group of young men broke into and stole items from an Asian owned store in Ottoville.

The government is accusing Alesana of being the driver of the car that was used to not only transport the stolen items from the store, but also the two men who allegedly broke into the store, to an area in Fogagogo, where they exchanged some of the stolen items to another man for drugs.


A man from Tafuna with a long criminal history entered into a plea bargain with the government last week. Olataga Apelu, who is on probation, was initially charged with 4 misdemeanors: 2 counts of third degree assault, resisting arrest, and public peace disturbance.

However, under a plea agreement with the government, Apelu pled guilty to public peace disturbance and the remaining charges were dismissed. Apelu admits that on July 10, 2019 in Petesa, he disturbed the public peace by being involved in a fight, during which he became loud and created fear to others. He also assaulted a man who tried to calm him down by punching him in the face twice.

Judge Elvis P. Patea sentenced Apelu to 6 months probation.

According to court records, Apelu has been detained since his arrest and therefore, has already served 129 days in prison. The court ordered that Apelu be released from the TCF -but he will remain there, pending a hearing to revoke his probation in High Court tomorrow morning.

During court proceedings, Apelu apologized, saying he is remorseful and he has learned his lesson.  According to the government, on the day of the incident, police got a call from someone in the Petesa area, requesting assistance to a disturbance.

When the cops arrived, an unknown male later identified as Apelu, yelled profanities at them and asked them to leave.

In 2012, the High Court placed Apelu on probation for 5 years, after he was convicted of felony driving and resisting arrest. As a condition of probation, he was ordered to serve 20 months at the TCF and remain law abiding.

In 2017, a few months after his probation in High Court expired, Apelu was arrested and charged with felony assault for assaulting his sister’s boyfriend. But under a plea bargain with the government, Apelu pled guilty to a lesser charge of third degree assault, and  was subsequently sentenced to 2 years probation.


A man who was dropping off his children at Aua Elementary School last week ended up in District Court, after he was arrested for allegedly disturbing the peace by engaging in a fight with another person.

Tavita Onofia made his initial appearance before District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea where he entered a 'not guilty' plea to one count of public peace disturbance.

After reviewing the police report, Judge Patea ordered Onofia to be released on his own recognizance, under certain conditions that include no contact with the alleged victim. According to the government, the defendant and the victim got into a disagreement that had to do with parking inside the school compound.

The verbal argument ended when Onofia allegedly punched the victim in the face, pushed him to the ground, and kicked him in the back while he was lying on the road.

Onofia told police during questioning that he assaulted the victim because he was angry. His next court appearance is Dec. 20th.


The 28-year-old man who was arrested on May 08, 2019 for violating local drug laws told the court that the allegations against him are true.

Alfred Lalau was initially charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine, and unlawful possession of marijuana - both class D felonies.

However, under a plea agreement with the government, Lalau pled guilty to the meth charge and admits that on the night in question, he was in possession of a glass pipe that contained meth. When asked by the court for details, Lalau said the pipe belonged to him and he used it to smoke meth.

He remains in custody and is scheduled to appear for sentencing Dec. 20th.

This is the second time officers have arrested Lalau for unlawful possession of illegal drugs. There was a prior case, but District Court Judge Elvis P. Patea dismissed it after the court found no probable cause to bind the case over to High Court, after a preliminary examination on Nov. 22, 2017 found that a police search conducted during a traffic stop on Nov. 04, 2017 was unlawful, and violated the defendant’s constitutional rights under local laws.

In that incident, cops from the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit who were conducting a traffic stop in the Iliili area pulled over a vehicle for having a loud muffler. There were two people in the car: the driver, identified as Mapu Ilaoa and Lalau, who was in the passenger seat. Illegal drugs were found on both suspects following a police