Former police officer found guilty of drug charges released from jail
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A former DPS police officer convicted for violating local drug laws was released from custody this week, after serving more time than the period of detention the court ordered him to serve as a condition of his 5 years probation.
Steve Tuatoo appeared before Chief Justice Michael Kruse this week for sentencing. He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson and prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General, Kristie Soule.
When given the chance to address the court, Anderson asked the court to clear the courtroom and let his client’s sentencing be heard behind closed doors, as they did during his previous hearing. His request was not granted, with Kruse noting that he doesn’t see any reason the court should grant the motion; and that it would also violate 5th Amendment Rights of those individuals inside the courtroom.
Tuatoo apologized to the court, his family and the people of American Samoa for his action, asking the court for another chance to be with his family. He said that he missed 3 years of his youngest daughter’s life who was always crying on the phone when they talked and telling him, “Daddy, please, tell police officers to let you out.”
Defense attorney, Anderson asked for a probated sentence saying his client is truly remorseful for what he did and deserves a second chance to rebuild his life and be with his family. He said that Tuatoo has already served 25 months in prison.
Anderson said that Tuatoo is ready to pay restitution to the American Samoa Government (ASG), to reimburse the government’s money that was spent to bring him back to the territory from the U.S mainland to face the charges against him.
He also asked the court to allow Tuatoo to depart the territory and be with his family off island.
Anderson further told the court that according to a report from the Acting Warden at TCF, Tuatoo is a model inmate and a role model for all inmates who are serving time at the TCF.
Prosecutor, Soule echoed the defense’s submission and asked the court for a probated sentence.
A recess was called.
After the recess, the court stated that pursuant to a plea agreement between the government and the defense, the defendant plead guilty to the amended count one of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both; and amended count 3 of unlawful possession of a unlicensed firearm, a class A misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
The court stated that according to the American Samoa Code Annotated (A.S.C.A) 46.1910 (a), “the court shall decide the extent or duration of sentence or other disposition to be imposed under all the circumstances, having regard to the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and character of the defendant …”
The court said the defendant in his plea mitigation asked for probation to which the government agrees. The defendant’s plea mitigation, however, does not go together with information the court received from the Probation Office and the Pre Sentence Report (PRS).
The police investigation into this matter started in January 2017 while the defendant worked as a police officer.
The court said that the defendant’s claim that he’s a non-typical drug dealer was inconsistent with what police officers found at his residence, where paraphernalia and several other items used for distribution were found.
The defendant’s plea mitigation that he’s a family man was also not consistent with the report that local authorities were alerted of his whereabouts after he fled the territory and was arrested for domestic violence in the U.S.
The defendant was initially arrested for drug activities and the Probation report said that the defendant was mistakenly released from TCF after the 48-hour hold expired, which gave him the opportunity to flee. The defendant’s action did not sit well with the court.
However, the court decided to go for probation.
For the charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, the defendant was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
For the charge of unlawful possession of unlicensed fireman, the defendant was sentenced to one year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. The charges will run consecutively.
Execution of imprisonment term was suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions.
The defendant shall undertake a period of detention of 20 months and he was credited for the 25 months he already served while awaiting the outcome of his case.
The defendant shall not consume alcohol nor possess or consume any illegal drugs at any time. He will be subject to random testing to make sure he stays clean.
The defendant shall also pay restitution in the amount of $10,250.28.
He shall also pay a fine in the amount of $5,000.
The court also ordered the defendant to seek and secure lawful gainful employment and not to congregate with those who consume alcohol and possess illegal drugs. He’s also ordered not to go near the two locations that are familiar to the court for drug distribution — such at Le Filifili and Le Aute.
He is to serve probation in the territory.
The court ordered that all contraband seized in the defendant’s case shall be destroyed by the Chief of Police with the presence of a marshal of the court.
After delivering his sentence, the court order the defendant to be released from TCF.
Associate Judges Faamausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili assisted Kruse on the bench.
Tuatoo was one of the three people arrested after detectives of the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit executed two search warrants to three different locations on November 9, 2017.
Tuatoo, who has been in custody after being extradited to the territory from Washington state, unable to post a $100,000, cash bond, was initially charged with five counts — one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, one count of unlawful possession of marijuana, possession of a prohibited weapon, unlawful possession of a firearm and flight to avoid prosecution.
The charges stem from a police raid of Tuatoo’s home in Alofau in November of 2017 in which according to the government’s case, numerous pieces of contraband were found including substances testing positive for methamphetamine, marijuana and a 16 gauge shotgun.
The search was conducted on Nov. 9, 2017, and following the raid, Tuato’o was booked at the TCF until the next sitting of District Court, which was Nov. 13, due to the Veterans Day holiday.
Between Nov. 11 and 12, according to the government, corrections officers at the TCF improperly released the defendant from custody at the expiration of the 48-hour confinement.
Tuatoo then traveled to the mainland via Samoa but he got on the wrong side of the law there in a domestic violence case, and was charged.
He pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Domestic Violence Violation of a Court Order and was sentenced to time served.
It was this arrest that alerted local DPS to Tuatoo’s whereabouts.
Governor Lolo filed a request for extradition of Tuatoo and he was returned to the territory on July 24, 2018.