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DPS officer alleges in court testimony that based on evidence they found —Letasi is a drug dealer

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government revealed during the second day of Tautua Letasi’s jury trial that based on the evidence they collected from the vehicle Letasi drove on the early morning of May 21, 2017, along with other evidence found at his home in Aoloau, they came to the conclusion that the defendant is a drug dealer.

Letasi, who is out on a $60,000 surety bond, is charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute; and unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, both felonies. He is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of possession of two unlicensed firearms.

A six-member jury — three females and three males — was selected this past Monday.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly, while representing Letasi is Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson.

The government called to the witness stand several police detectives who worked together to compile all the information regarding this case, including the lead investigator, Det. Savelio Vaofanua.

When asked by the defense attorney during cross examination, Det. Vaofanua stated to the jury that there was no DNA test conducted nor were there fingerprints taken when the evidence was seized from the defendant’s vehicle and home in Aoloao.

In redirect, Pengelly asked Det. Vaofanua whether he knew, if there is a DNA forensic facility on island that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) could use to conduct such tests. The witness replied, “No”.

Det. John Paselio, the third witness the government called to testify, who is a police officer of 20 years, and as been involved in many of the police raids of various places on island — where it was suspected illegal drugs were being dealt — told the jury that Letasi’s case is a different case.

“The evidence that was collected from the vehicle and his home in Aoloau proves Letasi is a drug dealer,” Paselio told the jury.

When asked by Pengelly how he knew that the defendant is a drug dealer, Paselio said, “In cases where people were found and charged for personal use [of drugs], we only find a glass pipe and one or two stamp size baggies containing methamphetamine. For the case against Letasi, we found 4 medium size baggies containing white crystalline substances, which were later tested positive for methamphetamine, along with 3 medium size baggies containing green leafy substance which later tested positive for marijuana, and drug paraphernalia including empty baggies, straws, scale, a pair of scissors and firearms.”

Based on his training as a police officer, Paselio told the jury the illegal drugs that were allegedly found in the Army backpack inside Letasi’s vehicle was ready to be sold to other people.

According the Paselio, it was Letasi’s wife who gave police the authority to search their home on the same date the defendant was arrested by police.

During the search of the defendant’s home, police found a 22- rifle inside his bedroom, along with drug paraphernalia, including a glass pipe that was inside a small plastic bowl.

Paselio told the jury that based on his training, it’s common for drug dealers to have firearms — not only to protect themselves, but also as a result of an exchange for methamphetamine.

The government also called Det. Gaui Lavatai-Seanoa, who works at the DPS Identification Unit. In her testimony, she told the jury that she was the one who took photos of all the items that were discovered inside the defendant’s vehicle and home.

After taking photos of all the evidence, she then placed them all inside the police unit she was using and transported them to the DPS Evidence Custodian, Officer Zenophia Jennings.

Photos of all the items seized from the defendant’s vehicle and his home in Aoloau were accepted into evidence and were marked as exhibits in this case.

The trial resumes at 9:00am today.