Friday, February 16, 2007

Wamala claims police verbal abuse, racism

From the Boston Herald:

NASHUA, N.H. - A former Lowell High School math teacher claims city detectives called him racist, derogatory names while urging him to admit to sexually assaulting three young women.

Prosecutors and police dispute the claims made by Severine Wamala, 45, of Nashua.

Wamala faces 34 felony sexual assault charges, each of which carries up to 10 to 20 years in prison. He has been jailed since his arrest in September, unable to post $1 million bail.

Police charge Wamala repeatedly raped three young women, ranging in age from their teens to early 20s, in Nashua over the past year. Lowell police also are investigating allegations of additional assaults, police have said.

Wamala's lawyer, public defender Scott Rankin, made the allegations in a motion filed earlier this month, seeking to suppress statements Wamala made during the interview.

If they were actually used, such words would land detectives in trouble, Detective Capt. Scott Howe, supervisor of the detectives division, said Tuesday. "That is not and would never be tolerated by the Nashua Police Department," he said.

"We intend to call as many people as we can to say that that didn't happen," said Patricia LaFrance, assistant Hillsborough County attorney. "The defendant makes some assertions, and we're obviously going to respond to them. It will be up to the judge to decide what was or wasn't said."

A hearing on the matter is scheduled March 12 in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Detectives Robert Page and Jonathan Lehto questioned Wamala after one of the women reported the alleged assaults in September, Rankin's motion said. Wamala claims Lehto told him he would be allowed to go home if he admitted to having sex with the women, and showed Wamala a letter one of them had written, in which she stated that Wamala had raped her. Wamala claims the detectives became increasingly hostile as he persisted in denying the allegations and began yelling at him.

Police recorded only "a small portion" of their interview with Wamala, LaFrance said.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that recordings of a defendant's confessions or statements can't be used as evidence unless police record the whole interview, starting when police read defendants their rights.

Wamala argues that detectives questioned him at length without advising him of his constitutional rights to remain silent and consult a lawyer. Once they read him his Miranda rights, Wamala requested a lawyer and the interview ended, Rankin's motion states.

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