PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The Central Falls man accused of killing a 10-year-old girl more than three decades ago will have his day in court after a judge allowed his lawsuit against the Pawtucket Police Department to move forward.
Joao Monteiro was arrested in 2019 in connection with the death of Christine Cole. Cole went missing after she left her West Avenue home to pick up groceries in January 1988. Her body was found nearly two months later on the beach at Conimicut Point Park in Warwick.
Investigators claimed DNA evidence led them to Monteiro, who reportedly lived in the apartment above the market where Cole was last seen.
But charges against Monteiro were dropped seven months later after the DNA evidence was found to be too broad, and did not specifically point to Monteiro as the killer.
Monteiro filed the lawsuit two years ago, arguing that the evidence was fabricated and suppressed in an attempt to solve the decades-old cold case.
The lawsuit claims Monteiro was arrested without probable cause, deprived of his constitutional rights, falsely imprisoned and slandered.
U.S. District Court Judge Mary McElroy opted not to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that Monteiro presented sufficient evidence for a jury trail.
‘It’s a match!’
In her ruling, McElroy referenced a text exchange between R.I. Department of Health forensic scientist Tamara Wong and Pawtucket Police Detective Susan Cormier in her ruling.
Wong, who was responsible for testing the bloodstain on Cole’s pants, texted Cormier “It’s a match!” The ruling states that Wong did not elaborate on the fact it was a familial DNA match and not a unique match, which reportedly led to miscommunication between her and Cormier.
Despite her initial excitement, Cormier reportedly texted Wong back a couple of hours later asking her to “translate this into [her] language” and “dumb it down.”
Cormier claimed that Wong didn’t explain that the results weren’t unique and were just consistent with Monteiro’s. That means the match has a statistical significance of “approximately 1 in every 1,909 individuals” and is shared among Monteiro’s family.
Though the initial affidavit identified the sample as being a consistent match, the ruling states Cormier texted District Court Magistrate J. Patrick O’Neill anyway of the results.
“Cormier continued to refer to the results as ‘a match’ without qualification,” McElroy wrote.
McElroy cited a text message Cormier sent to O’Neill while confirming her appointment to bring the arrest warrant application to him.
“We executed the warrant, did the DNA [test] and we got a MATCH,” Cormier reportedly wrote.
In response, O’Neill replied, “That’s pretty [expletive] awesome!”
McElroy said O’Neill’s response could potentially lead a jury to infer that he also believed the results were a unique match based on Cormier’s wording.
In her ruling, McElroy also determined that critical pieces of information were omitted from the Monteiro’s arrest warrant, which a jury could presumably find that Cormier was motivated by “ill will” and not “a neutral desire to discern facts.”
The omitted evidence included that Monteiro didn’t live above the market Cole visited until 13 years after her death, and that she was reportedly seen walking near where another suspect was known to frequent.
“The omissions from the warrant affidavit could be found to have evidenced a determination to overstate the incriminating evidence against Monteiro and forestall any doubts about his guilt,” McElroy wrote.
Lack of supervision
McElroy also noted that the Pawtucket Police Department did not have a system in place for supervising investigations, including those of Cormier.
The ruling states Cormier had been reprimanded in the past for conducting inadequate investigations.
But Goncalves claimed she was unaware of the previous discipline Cormier had faced.
“Clearly, the lack of any substantive training in DNA could be found to have directly contributed to Cormier’s alleged failure to understand the results,” McElroy wrote.
The ruling states that, prior to his arrest, Monteiro was a married father of four who had held the same job for 15 years. He lost his job and was rendered homeless upon being publicly identified as a child murderer, according to McElroy.
In a statement, Monteiro’s attorney said his client appreciates McElroy’s “detailed analysis recognizing that he has legitimate claims against the investigators.”
“[Monteiro] is looking forward to a public trial where a jury will decide on his claims that police and the R.I. Department of Health made up the case against him,” the statement reads.