Probable cause found in case against man charged with drug possession
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Judge Elvis P. Patea has found probable cause to bind the government's case against drug defendant Rintel I'atala to the High Court, where an arraignment is scheduled for this morning.
I'atala is charged with one count each of illegal possession of marijuana and illegal possession of methamphetamine, both felonies. Bail is set at $10,000
Yesterday in District Court was the preliminary examination hearing.
Only two witnesses were called to the stand, one from each side.
Prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris called Capt. Lima Togia, while defense attorney Assistant Public Defender Anna Whiles called I'atala's fiancee, Kelly Lotovale, who was in the vehicle with I'atala on the night in question.
The government claims that Capt. Togia had followed a truck driven by I'atala on Feb. 8 and he was able to meet up with him in the parking lot of a store in Laulii village.
Togia had noticed that the sticker on the truck was not current. He confirmed this when he called it in to the DPS dispatcher.
The criminal complaint and Togia's testimony were identical, in that two individuals were inside the truck: I'atala and a woman, who was later identified as his fiancee, Kelly Lotovale.
According to Togia, he informed I'atala of why he was stopped and asked for his driver's license. At this time, the female had walked into the store. Togia said I'atala claimed he had forgotten his license at home and he doesn't have "any money to renew his insurance and registration."
Togia said he told I'atala that he cannot operate the vehicle and it will be impounded at the Faga'itua East Substation. He said I'atala stepped out of the truck and that's when he patted him down, "for safety reasons."
Togia said that while he was doing that, the defendant "got defensive and started telling me in a loud tone… that I cannot search him." Togia said he informed the defendant that he wasn't searching him. Instead, he was just patting him down to see if he was carrying any weapons.
"He continued telling me that I can't do that," Togia wrote in the criminal complaint.
Togia said he contacted the East Substation for assistance and that's when 2 more cops showed up. One drove I'atala's vehicle while the other drove back in the unit they came in.
According to Togia, an inventory of the vehicle was carried out, in I'atala's presence. When they proceeded to the office, Togia said he asked I'atala for another form of identification and was told that it was at home.
When Togia called the Central Station to inquire about information on I'atala's driver's license, he was told that no driver's license has been issued under that name.
Togia said the lack of a valid ID and the lie about having a driver's license were the reasons why he booked I'atala. He said an inventory of I'atala's property netted "a large plastic ziplock bag" which held a "glass pipe commonly used to smoke methamphetamine (ICE) with a usable amount of white substances inside."
Also found were two stamp-sized plastic baggies containing a 'white crystalline substance' that appeared to be meth. In addition, a "neatly folded newspaper" with what appeared to be 'dried marijuana leaves' were also found.
Togia claims that I'atala "tried to conceal" the two small baggies under his lavalava.
He added that before he could read him his constitutional rights, I'atala "spontaneously uttered that he has PTSD and he takes the drugs to calm him down." Togia said I'atala also told him that his girlfriend takes the drugs because of her job.
In a written and verbal statement, I'atala allegedly revealed that he bought the meth from Vaitogi and the marijuana came from Aoa. "He said he takes the drugs for his anxiety and PTSD," Togia claims.
On the stand yesterday, Togia said the dried leaves, weighing about 14 grams, tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and the white crystalline substance from one of the plastic baggies tested positive for meth.
According to Lotovale's testimony, she and I'atala had stopped by the store in Laulii for some ice cream when Togia pulled up next to them. She said I'atala was already walking into the store when Togia arrived.
She said that's when Togia asked I'atala for his driver's license. She said I'atala asked her to fetch his wallet but she realized that they didn't bring it with them. She said I'atala told Togia that he has a Missouri driver's license but the officer didn't listen. She said when she went looking for her license, she realized that she didn't bring her wallet either.
Lotovale testified that when Togia was asking for registration, she got out of the truck because she knows him. She said she went into the store to buy the ice cream and call her mother to inform her of what was going on. I'atala was still outside in the parking lot with Togia.
She said I'atala was upset with the pat down and told Togia that he had "nothing on him". Lotovale further told the court that when they got to the East Substation, two other cops were asked to assist Togia with carrying out an inventory of the truck.
She said they were told that the search was part of the 'procedure'.
Lotovale said they took their stuff out of the truck and transferred them to a police unit that was to escort them home. I'atala was then taken in and a citation was to be issued. She said I'atala continued to tell the cops that he had a Missouri driver's license but they called the central station anyway.
According to Lotovale, they were told that they're "lucky" that Togia is kind of related to her, so nothing will happen; and I'atala will only be issued a citation.
In her arguments, counsel Whiles told the court that there was no probable cause for her client's arrest, and any evidence from that 'improper search' should be inadmissible.
Judge Patea referred the defense counsel to the Rules of Criminal Procedure and said any challenges like the one she was voicing are to be made in High Court, as the District Court only serves as a magistrate.
He said the court is 'satisfied' that probable cause exists for both charges against the defendant, and the case is bound over to High Court for arraignment today at 9a.m.
In addition to this new case, I'atala is charged in two other criminal cases that were filed last year. Judge Patea has continued the pretrial conference for both matters to March 1.