Traffic stop trips up man on probation for drug possession
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 53-year-old man who is on probation after being convicted of felony drug possession is now back in custody after police allegedly discovered a quantity of illegal drugs in his possession during a traffic stop two weeks ago.
Tau Ala is charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, both felonies which carry an imprisonment sentence between 5 to 10 years, a fine between $5,000 and $20,000, or both; along with one count of resisting arrest, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Ala made his initial appearance in District Court last week where Judge Elvis P. Patea set a $15,000 surety bond.
The preliminary hearing is now scheduled for Thursday this week, Apr. 16th at 9a.m.
The government’s case against Ala stems from an incident that occurred on Apr. 5th about 6:19p.m when two police officers patrolling the Iliili public highway spotted a pickup truck heading westbound with an expired license tag.
Officers radioed the Dispatcher for a quick check on the status of the license plate, with the Dispatcher stating that it had expired two years ago.
Officers pulled over the vehicle and approached the driver to explain the purpose of the stop. One male individual was inside the vehicle when officers pulled him over. He was later identified as Ala, the defendant in this matter.
Officers told the defendant his vehicle’s license tag expired two years ago, but Ala argued that he had renewed his vehicle registration in November of last year. While officers were speaking with the defendant, one officer saw the defendant try to reach into his right pocket.
When officers instructed the defendant to turn off his engine and step outside, the defendant resisted and started to move his vehicle forward. A few moments later, the defendant agreed to comply with police. As it turned out the defendant also did not possess a valid driver’s license and it also had expired two years ago.
The two officers then impounded the vehicle and transported it to the Tafuna Substation, where one of the officers started issuing citations to the defendant for the violations and later informed the defendant that he would need to conduct an inventory of the vehicle because it would be impounded, but released back after proper paperwork was completed.
Before officers conducted the inventory search to the vehicle, Ala was patted-down.
During the pat-down, officers discovered a medium sized baggie in the defendant’s right pocket. Inside the medium baggie were 3 small stamped-sized baggies containing white crystalline substance.
During the inventory search of the vehicle — with the defendant present, police observed a black pouch underneath the passenger seat. Inside the black pouch were 5 cut-up straws containing white crystalline substance.
Immediately after the white crystalline substance was allegedly discovered on the defendant and inside his vehicle, a police lieutenant contacted the DPS Vice and Narcotic and K9 Unit for assistance to further the investigation. The search of the vehicle was stopped at that time and the defendant was taken back inside the Tafuna Substation to await their arrival.
Two police lieutenants from the Vice and Narcotic Unit (VNU) arrived to investigate the alleged drug case. Officers who conducted the traffic stop handed over the plastic baggie containing the white crystalline substance to the officers of VNU, who immediately took over the investigation.
The white crystalline substance that was inside the plastic baggie tested positive for methamphetamine.
The defendant was warned of his constitutional rights to which he acknowledged understanding the document and wished to make a verbal statement about the incident.
According to Ala’s statement to police, the methamphetamine found in his possession and inside his vehicle does not belong to him. He said that when he got inside his vehicle, he witnessed the medium baggie inside the black pouch. He removed the medium baggie containing methamphetamine and put it inside his pocket before he placed the black pouch under the passenger’s seat.
DEFENDANT’S ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE (OSC) HEARING
After his initial appearance in District Court, Ala appeared in High Court for his Order to Show Cause (OSC) hearing before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia on the allegation that he violated conditions of his probation after he was arrested in the recent case.
Defense’s attorney, Rob McNeill told the court that the allegation against his client is based on the new affidavit, and his client has entered a denial to the allegation of non compliance with condition of his probation.
Sunia set the preliminary examination for Ala’s OSC on Apr. 20th.
In August of last year, Sunia sentenced Ala to probation, with jail time, after he was convicted of unlawful possession of methamphetamine.
Ala was ordered to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) as one of the conditions of a 5-year probation term, of which he was to serve only 7 months, which included the 5 months he had already served in pretrial confinement. The remaining 13 months were stayed as long as he was in compliance with conditions of his probation.
Ala was banned from entering any bars, taverns, or businesses that sell alcohol, and he was not to congregate with people who are doing drugs or consuming alcohol.