PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The man accused in the 1988 murder of a 10-year-old girl is now suing Pawtucket and members of its police department, alleging that evidence was fabricated and suppressed in an attempt to solve the decades-old cold case.
In a ten-count civil complaint filed in R.I. District Court Tuesday, attorneys for Joao Monteiro said he was arrested without probable cause, deprived of his constitutional rights, falsely imprisoned and slandered.
In the complaint, Monteiro’s attorneys say he “had absolutely nothing to do with the murder and had never known or interacted with the girl.”
Monteiro was arrested in July 2019 for the 1988 slaying of Christine Cole. Cole, 10, had gone missing after she left her Pawtucket home to get milk and clams for dinner on Jan. 6. Cole’s body was found on a beach at Conimicut Point Park in Warwick 54 days later.
In 2019, investigators announced that DNA evidence led them to Monteiro, who they said lived in the apartment above the market where Cole was last seen.
But charges against Monteiro were dropped seven months later because the DNA evidence was found to be too broad, and did not specifically point to Monteiro as the killer.
The lawsuit filed on Monteiro’s behalf by the Chicago-based firm Loevy & Loevy names the City of Pawtucket as well as four members of the police force: Detectives Susan Cormier and Trevor Lefebvre, Major Daniel Mullen and Chief Tina Goncalves. It also names Tamara Wong, who the suit identifies as an employee of the R.I. Department of Health that supplied DNA evidence related to the case.
In a statement Goncalves told 12 News: “Cold cases always have a high degree of difficulty given the time that elapses. Detective Sue Cormier and the Pawtucket Police Department have a passion for solving these cases and providing closure to the families of the victims. In this particular case, the Department met the burden of proof for probable cause with new testing for the DNA sample to administer an arrest.”
Goncalves continued, “The Attorney General’s Office looked at the findings and stated that they would require more information. The Pawtucket Police Department is working closely with the Assistant Attorney General assigned to the case and remains committed to giving the family of 10-year-old Christine Cole closure. At this point, the individual continues to be a prime suspect in the case.”
The lawsuit alleges that members of the Pawtucket Police Department “fabricated false statements” from Monteiro and took advantage of a language barrier to make it seem as if Monteiro was guilty of Cole’s murder. The lawsuit alleges the DNA evidence used in the case was either misrepresented or falsified.
“This DNA profile potentially pointed to any number of men who may have had some connection to the area,” the complaint reads. “For some unknown reason, the Pawtucket defendants decided to target Plaintiff, an innocent man.”
Monteiro’s attorneys also allege that his race was a factor, noting that he is of Cape Verdean ancestry.
“But for his race, ethnicity and/or national origin, defendants would not have targeted him for unlawful arrest,” the lawyers wrote.
The complaint also points to previous legal action taken by other plaintiffs of color against the city’s police department for false arrests or imprisonment.
Attorneys also made note of the lack of involvement from the state’s Attorney General’s office in Monteiro’s arrest, alleging that Pawtucket Police purposefully excluded state prosecutors to try and “get away with this misconduct.”
Monteiro’s lawyers say the arrest forever altered his life, caused him to lose his job of 15 years and rendered him homeless. They’re now seeking damages, attorney’s fees and other costs.