Man Arrested In Cold Case Rhode Island Killing, Released When Charges Were Dropped, Sues Detectives on Case

Pawtucket Police Department cold case playing cards
Getty Images / Pawtucket Police Department

Joao Monteiro is suing the City of Pawtucket and the detectives who worked on his case.

A young girl from Rhode Island disappeared in 1988 after a visit to the market in her small Pawtucket neighborhood, and over a month later her body was washed up to shore. For decades, her case went unsolved, until Pawtucket Detectives in 2018 arrested Joao Monteiro, a Creole immigrant, charging him in her murder. 
But after very little compelling evidence, prosecutors released Monteiro on bail a day after his arrest and 10 months later, dismissed the case, the Boston Globe reported.
Now, Monteiro is suing the City of Pawtucket and the detectives who worked on his case, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday
Christine Cole was just 10 years old when she disappeared over three decades ago on Jan. 6 on her way home from a local market in her town, located at the mouth of the Seekonk River, according to court documents. She was found down the river, at Conimicut Point Park.
Cole's case went cold –– as did dozens of other cases in Pawtucket. 
Inspired to resolve the laundry list of unsolved cases, Detective Susan Cormier, of the Pawtucket Police Department, in 2018 started a bureau focusing on investigating unsolved crimes. It was named the Pawtucket Cold Case unit. 
That August, as their first case in the unit, detectives reopened the investigation into Cole's case and obtained DNA analysis of blood found on the girls' pants.
The evidence, the suit alleges, "did not produce sufficient DNA to provide a match to any DNA profile from a known person."
The only person that DNA indicated a potential connection to was Monteiro's son –– who was born five years after the girl died, according to the suit.
Detectives allegedly began "following" Monteiro around and "manufacturing evidence" that made him appear to be acting suspiciously, the suit alleges.
An immigrant, Joao Monteiro only spoke his native Creole. The lawsuit says that the detectives who handled the arrest did not have an interpreter for him. They then allegedly went on to use that language barrier as an opportunity to fabricate incriminating "admissions," the suit reads.
The lawsuit alleges that the state Department of Health laboratory "never truly concluded that DNA found in the girl's pants was a match" to Monteiro. The suit says that the only piece that DNA evidence linked to was his son. The Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Monteiro was a father of four, who lived a "quiet life," spending 15 years loading trucks until his arrest, according to the suit.
After his arrest, Monteiro denied any knowledge of what happened to the girl.
A day after Monteiro was arrested, prosecutors moved to have him released on low bail, the suit said. And just months later, prosecutors dismissed the charges against him.
Monteiro's life fell apart afterward, sending him into homelessness and tarnishing his reputation, his suit contends.
As part of the department's initiative, Cormier created the Rhode Island Cold Case playing card program. A deck of 52 playing cards was created, each with the face of a victim of an unsolved crime.
Monteiro's lawyers in the suit called her a "media hound."
Cole was Cormier's first case as part of this playing-card deck, according to the Rhode Island Monthly. She was the Queen of Hearts.
Cormier held a press conference to publicly announce Monteiro's arrest — warning other people that “we are coming for you," according to the suit.
Cormier had 5,000 decks made–– and 4,500 of them were put into the Adult Correctional Institution, a Rhode Island prison facility, made available for purchase at the kiosk, she said in an interview with WPRI.
"It seems sometimes they have a lot more knowledge than the average citizen," Cormier said, referring to convicted criminals.
Cormier had reportedly conducted a "weekly media spotlight" to showcase her cold cases –– highlighting one case a week for a year.
"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," the department wrote in a statement to Inside Edition Digital. "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."

"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."

The Pawtucket Police Department said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

In a statement emailed to the Associated Press by a city spokesperson wrote, “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.”

The police department still considers Monteiro a "prime suspect" in Cole's case, the department said. The police could refile charges again, if they wanted to, because his charges were dismissed without prejudice, according to the Globe.

“Obviously, this has had a significant impact on him,” his lawyer William Devine wrote to the outlet. “One day you’re going to work and it’s fine, the next day you’re accused of killing a 10 year old.”

The lawsuit is asking for a jury trial to determine compensatory charges.

The suit is charging the defendants with 10 counts including arrest without probable cause, federal malicious prosecution, equal protection, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, failure to intervene, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander, and indemnification. 


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