Traffic stop nets — not meth — but this time it is cocaine
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two men were arrested by police last week and charged with unlawful possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute.
The two men, Matavale Fiu and Gaisoa Mapo made their initial appearance in District Court last week. Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey. An Assistant Public Defender is representing Fiu while private attorney Marcellus Tala Uiagalelei is representing Mapo.
Fiu and Mapo are each charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; cocaine and one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; cocaine, both felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years nor more than twenty years and a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.
Bail for Fiu and Mapo are each set at $15,000.
Preliminary examination is scheduled for Wednesday this week, Aug. 19th at 9a.m.
The charges against the two defendant stem from a traffic stop on the night of July 25, 2020 in Iliili after several police officers observed a vehicle overtaking cars at the Ottoville intersection near the old Argosy building in the Tafuna area.
Several police officers in one police unit initiated the stop near the Blue Sky Cable compound in Iliili while another police unit with several police officers followed behind to assist.
Officers approached the driver of the vehicle who was identified as Alesana Tipi. Three other male individuals were also inside the vehicle with Tipi. A check for a driver’s license on the OMV system revealed no record found for Alesana Tipi. Therefore, officers required Tipi to perform a Standardize Field Sobriety Test at the scene of the traffic stop. There was no mention in the court affidavit whether Tipi passed the test or not.
While two officers were dealing with Tipi, several officers noticed that the passenger in he back behind the driver’s seat kept moving around. A police officer immediately instructed the passenger to exit the vehicle. As the passenger exited the vehicle, one police officer recognized him as Matavale Fiu (one of the co-defendants in this matter) from a previous matter. Fiu was detained while officers checked for any outstanding warrants.
Other than Tipi and Fiu, there were two other passengers in the vehicle who were also detained by officers for a short period of time but later released. There was no mentioned in the court affidavit whether police ever conducted a body search on the two passengers who were later released.
While officers were trying to deal with the four men who from Tipi’s vehicle, two men approached the scene of the traffic stop and identified themselves as friends of the driver and his passengers. The two men were Elijah Leasau and Gaisoa Mapo, one of the co-defendants in this case.
Defendant Mapo asked the officers if he could talk to Fiu, who was awaiting the results of an active warrant check. Officers allowed Mapo to talk to defendant Fiu who as not under arrest at the time.
As Mapo and Fiu were chatting, one of the officers observed Mapo allegedly tapping on Fiu’s chest. The officer further observed Mapo acquire an item from Fiu. As Mapo was stepping away from Fiu, the same officer observed a plastic baggie in Mapo’s hand. The officer then asked Mapo what he was holding but Mapo refused to show him.
The officer told investigators, it was at that time that Mapo stuck the item inside his pocket. The officer turned around and detained Mapo and later transported him (Mapo) along with Fiu to the Tafuna Police Station (TPS) for further investigation.
Upon arrival at the TPS, the same officer who detained Mapo and Fiu informed a police lieutenant of the circumstances at the scene that led to the detention of Fiu and Mapo.
A police lieutenant then asked Mapo to empty his pockets. As Mapo removed his belongings a plastic baggie containing white powder fell out from his pocket. Officers also found a black cut up straw used as a scoop.
The items were immediately seized by officers who asked Mapo what it was and who did it belong to, however, Mapo made no reply and was later released.
As for Fiu’s matter, Officers also inquired about the items found on Mapo who stated he found it at a bar earlier. When asked if he know what was in the baggie, Fiu stated it was drugs. Fiu was released later that night.
Mr. Leasau also came to the TPS in his own private vehicle. During a conversation with officers outside the Substation awaiting his friends, Leasau told officers that he had already talked to Fiu regarding the illegal drugs and Fiu admitted to him that he owned the stuff that was found on Mapo.
Items found were later referred to the DPS Vice & Narcotics unit for further investigation. Investigators tested the substance inside the plastic baggie and the substance tested positive for cocaine. However, to confirm the results, a police lieutenant tested the substance again and also received a positive result for cocaine.
After being tested, the evidence was turned into the Evidence Custodian.
According to the government’s case, the cocaine allegedly found was inconsistent with an amount for personal use.
CONCERNED OF THE COURT WITH COCAINE
The issue regarding cocaine allegedly found in the territory concerned the court. Last week during the sentencing of a man convicted of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, the court emphasized the seriousness of the drug problem in American Samoa, which has started from meth and now it’s cocaine.
Two of the men whose names were mentioned in the court affidavit had previous encounters with police.
Leasau was charged by the government for unlawful possession of marijuana in December of 2015. Two years later during his jury trial, Leasau was acquitted by a six jurors after they reviewed all the evidence presented by the government during a four-day trial.
Tipi has two pending criminal cases in High Court from last year both involving illegal drugs. Tipi, who was out on bond while awaiting the outcome of his two cases is charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.
The charges against Tipi, also know as Sulu stem from an incident when investigators received a tip from a confidential informer (C.I.) that Tipi was selling illegal drugs from his house in Vaitogi. Police conducted a controlled buy before they conducted a search and allegedly discovered illegal drugs at Tipi’s home.
Tipi had entered a not guilty plea to the charges against him and he’s awaiting his trial.
According to the Recoverynetwork website, Methamphetamine is also known as “Poor Man’s Cocaine” because it has similar euphoric effects to cocaine but is less expensive.