Federal indictment filed against suspect with violent criminal history

2019 file photo of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A man with multiple cases and convictions for aggravated assault and other domestic-violence related offenses has been indicted in federal court on a weapons charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

According to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court on March 31, 36-year-old Eldon Tanuvasa, of St. George, has been charged with one felony count of possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Federal prosecutor Angela Reddish-Day stated in the court filings that despite Tanavusa “knowing he had previously been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year,” he was found in possession of a firearm on March 17, a G-Force Arms 12 gauge shotgun and ammunition.

The case was picked up by federal prosecutors following an arrest near the One and Only Bar in St. George on March 17 when a St. George Police Officer was driving next to the bar shortly after 6:30 p.m. and smelled a strong odor of burnt marijuana coming from the area, according to charging documents filed in 5th District Court.

Just as the officer got out of his patrol vehicle to conduct a walk-through of the area, a car quickly left the parking lot and pulled out onto the street without the driver signaling. The officer pursued and conducted a traffic stop a few minutes later.

2018 file photo of the One and Only Bar, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2018 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

The officer noted in the report that he smelled the strong odor of marijuana coming from inside of the vehicle and that when asked, the driver admitted to smoking the substance and told the officer there was marijuana inside of the car.

The officer stated that Tanuvasa had red bloodshot eyes with dilated pupils and that there was also a strong smell of alcohol. The was asked to step out of the car for a field sobriety test – one that he failed, according to police.

Tanuvasa was placed under arrest, and during a search of the vehicle officers found a glass pipe with burnt marijuana residue and a bag of marijuana in the center console. In the trunk they recovered a loaded black shotgun inside of a gun bag, which Tanuvasa was prohibited from having, as he is a convicted felon with an aggravated assault conviction on a 2017 case.

A background check also revealed two active warrants for his arrest that were issued out of 5th District Court, one of which was issued on a case involving forcible sex abuse and the other for an aggravated assault charge filed in 2019.

Moreover, the report states, the suspect was on felony probation at the time of the stop.

Tanuvasa was arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility where he faced multiple charges, including second-degree felony possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and third-degree DUI with prior convictions. He was also charged with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia.

The aggravated assault conviction that prohibited the suspect from possessing any firearms was filed in 2017 following a family fight.

According to court records, the suspect admittedly assaulted a female family member while she was sleeping, choking the woman in front of a 7-year-old child who was sleeping in the same room at the time. The suspect initially denied the incident but then pleaded guilty to third-degree felony aggravated assault three months later.

During sentencing, the prison sentence of up to five years and two jail sentences of one year were suspended in the case. Instead, the defendant was ordered to serve 150 days in jail and placed on 36-month probation.

Less than two years later, the suspect faced another aggravated assault charge while still on probation. In that case, officers responded to a family fight call in November 2019 and found a woman standing in the middle of the roadway bleeding from the face.

According to the report, the woman was beaten and choked to unconsciousness by the suspect, who was inside of the home when officers arrived. He initially denied being the aggressor and was arrested while a second-degree felony aggravated assault charge was submitted to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review.

The following month the suspect pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was placed on 24-months probation.

The defendant has had a dozen domestic violence-related cases filed against him since 2014, cases and convictions that include aggravated assault, assault, criminal mischief, criminal trespass and multiple protective order violation charges.

In all, the only case that resulted in a jail sentence was the 2017 case where Tanuvasa was ordered to serve 150 days in jail; otherwise he has been fined and placed on probation in each of the other cases, many of which were filed while the suspect was still on active probation for similar crimes.

If convicted in federal court, the maximum sentence is up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The suspect is being held in Washington County where he has remained since his arrest. A detention hearing has been scheduled to take place in U.S. District Court on April 12.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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