Posted on October 26, 2004

Latino Group Calls Charges Of Gang Rape Unfounded

Kytja Weir, Charlotte Observer, Oct. 22

HUNTERSVILLE — About 25 people gathered at a Latino grocery store Thursday night to ask police about the arrest of six Latino men charged with gang raping a woman last week.

They said the accused are respectful, married men who have families and aren’t guilty. They also raised concerns police aren’t investigating the case thoroughly enough or interviewing neighbors and friends of the suspects.

Huntersville police Officer J.V. Zavala was on hand but acknowledged he didn’t know much about the case because it wasn’t his investigation. He did say police are continuing to investigate it.

Maudia Melendez, a Latina activist from Charlotte, encouraged the people who attended the meeting to share with police what they know about the case.

Police have said a woman visited a trailer home on Cimmaron Road in southwestern Huntersville on the night of Oct. 9.

She had been involved with one of the men who lived there, the search warrant said.

That man and the other men held the woman at the home for at least six hours and repeatedly raped her, police said.

The next morning she called police around 11:30 a.m. and went to Lake Norman Regional Medical Center to be treated for physical injuries. The Observer does not generally publish the names of possible sex-offense victims.

The six men were arrested and charged with one count each of first degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and first degree kidnapping. They also face federal immigration violations.

José Julian Castillo Castillo, 35, the brother of one of the arrested men, said it’s true the men were in the United States illegally. They are all from the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, he said.

But he’s visited his brother and the others in jail, and he said they told him sex between the woman and the men was consensual.

Thursday’s meeting was one of the first times police and members of Huntersville’s Latino communities have met for a discussion, Zavala and community members said. It’s unclear how large the Latino community is in Huntersville, a fast-growing community of about 32,300.

But community members and police said they hope the meeting can help foster more communication and involvement within the community.

Latino Group Questions Investigation Of Gang Rape

Tucker Mitchell, The Huntersville Herald (NC), Oct. 26

The Huntersville Police Department is under fire from a Hispanic activist following last week’s arrest of six Hispanic men accused of brutally raping a woman for more than five hours in a Huntersville mobile home park on Oct. 10. The activist, Maudia Melendez of the Latino Connection, says she’s concerned about the thoroughness of HPD’s investigation, given the reputation of the accused in the Huntersville and Cornelius communities.

“The community that knows the detainees have all said the same thing to me, namely how is that six men, who are just regular people, good workers, how is that they can suddenly become animals and commit so terrible a crime?” Melendez says. “I am an advocate for Latinos but I am also a supporter of law and order. What we are really looking for here is the truth. I’m not sure we have that just yet.”

Among other possibilities, Melendez and others wonder in what way, if any, the victim may have contributed to the events of the early morning hours of Oct. 10.

Melendez was scheduled to meet with HPD officials Wednesday and a meeting for those concerned about the matter was scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Showmars shopping center on Highway 21 in Huntersville. A similar meeting was held there last weekend.

HPD officials say they have looked at that possibility that the the victim was in some way responsible, including the theory that she was a prostitute, but have not found any evidence that would back that up. The alleged victim, who lives in Huntersville, has no prior record as far Huntersville officers can tell, and statements taken from the alleged perpetrators the morning after the incident do not raise the question.

“You’d think that might be something that you’d mention to the police, if that were the case,” says Lt. Ken Richardson, head of HPD’s criminal investigations unit.

In addition, says Richardson, there was considerable evidence of forcible sex. Richardson declined to detail the victim’s exact medical condition because of confidentiality concerns, but other sources say the bruising on the victim was considerable and she was so badly injured that she could not walk for several days afterwards.

Richardson also says that the acts in question would be a serious crime even if the woman were a prostitute.

“You might do some things for money,” Richardson says. “You wouldn’t do this.”

According to HPD accounts, the woman’s ordeal began late on the night of Oct. 9 when she accompanied one of the suspects back to the mobile home at 11714 Cimarron Road. Cimarron is in the Huntington Green subdivision off McCoy Road. Not long after entering the mobile home, which was rented by two of the suspects, the woman went to use the bathroom. When she came out, the man in whose company she entered the unit was no longer around, but several other men were. The men soon began raping her. They used physical force to prevent her from leaving the room she was in, which added kidnapping to the charges. All of the men, including the original escort, allegedly participated in the rape.

The woman, described by police as 37-year-old white female, was finally allowed to leave, sometime around 6 a.m. Sunday morning. She returned to her home where her 13-year-old daughter noted her condition and called the authorities. The woman was rushed to Lake Norman Regional Medical Center where she was treated, and, with the help of a Huntersville officer who is specially trained in evidence-gathering procedures, provided authorities with evidence collected through a rape kit.

In the meantime, Huntersville police officers were dispatched to the rented residence on Cimmaron where four of the men later charged were still on hand. Uniformed patrolmen held the men there while detectives arrived to gather evidence inside the trailer. While this was going on, three more men returned to the house. The police questioned the suspects with the help of interpreters, and several of the suspects offered fairly detailed statements. Believing the men might not be legal U.S. residents, HPD contacted the Immigration and Naturaliziation Service (INS) which sent agents to the scene and determined that in fact, all seven were in the country illegally. All seven were put under INS detainers and jailed in Charlotte. Several days later, the INS detainers were lifted against six of the seven men so that state charges could be filed. The seventh, Pedro Flores, formerly of Cornelius, has already been deported. Police say it’s unclear if Flores was at the scene during the rape, but statements from the other men suggest he did not take part in the alleged crime.

The six arrested for rape and kidnapping include Blas Ceron Santiago, Rafael Ceron Santiago, Eladio Castillio Castillio, Alfredo Munoz Perez, Antonio Islas Lucio and Alejandro Morales Suarez. All six are currently in the Mecklenburg County Jail under $300,000 bond each.

In addition, HPD is still seeking a seventh man. Detective Andrew Dempski, the lead investigator on the case for HPD, says police are interested in talking to this man whom they believe was at the scene for at least part of the night in question. They’re not calling the missing man a suspect at this time.

Dempski says that originally, the man was believed to be in Concord, but police have not been able to find him so far.

Dempski says “a lot” of physical evidence, including some DNA samples, was driven by an HPD officer to the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) lab in Raleigh in an effort to expedite its handling by the SBI’s swamped data analysis lab.

The Cornelius police department is eager to receive the DNA results as well. CPD investigators want to determine if this crime is related to an abduction and rape that took place in Cornelius this summer. Then, four Hispanic men abducted a woman from a downtown Cornelius home and took her to a site in Cabarrus County where she was assaulted.