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Sexual assault, domestic violence charges dropped against refugee in New Hampshire due to ‘cultural incompentence’

33-year old Augustin Bahati, a Congelese refugee who is accused of domestic violence and sexual assault.

By Mark Hayward
New Hampshire Union Leader

Manchester — A judge has ended efforts to reinstate a domestic-violence prosecution against Augustin Bahati, the Congolese refugee deemed culturally incompetent to stand trial earlier this year.

Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Chabot said she wouldn’t grant city prosecutors a do-over of the case and dismissed the misdemeanor charges against Bahati, 33: four counts of domestic violence and one of sexual assault.

The city’s top prosecutor on Tuesday ruled out an appeal.

“All I can say is we made a decision not to appeal,” said acting City Solicitor Emily Rice.

The Bahati case came to light in late June, when New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald raised issues with prosecutions of domestic violence cases in Manchester. MacDonald’s inquiry led to the abrupt retirements of the top two lawyers in the City Solicitor’s Office and attorney general oversight of some office operations.

Earlier this year Bahati avoided trial after the assistant city solicitor in charge of the domestic violence unit — Andrea Muller — accepted a psychologist’s findings that he lacked the cultural competency to participate in the American justice system.

New Hampshire law contains no provision that allows for cultural incompetence, and MacDonald’s office has said that Muller should have fought the incompetency finding.

In July, city prosecutors reinstated charges against Bahati. Court records show that a hearing took place in late August involving Muller, Rice, Bahati and his public defender.
Chabot issued her order on Sept. 14.

“There are no circumstances that warrant and/or support the State’s attempt at a ‘do-over,’ particularly where it took no action following the dismissals without prejudice on March 2,” Chabot wrote.

On Tuesday, Rice said prosecutors rarely appeal decisions in criminal cases. She said she made the decision in consultation with her client — the city — but would not identify who. Nor would she explain the reasons for not appealing.

Samantha Piatt, chief of staff for Mayor Ted Gatsas, issued the following statement: “The mayor is aware of the decision not to appeal the Bahati case, and he understands the court order.” She would not take any questions.

Police Chief Nick Willard, whose complaints about the domestic violence prosecutors prompted the attorney general’s investigation, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Rice did not answer questions about any communications her office had with the victim. And she said she did not want to comment on Muller’s decision in March to not challenge the finding of the psychologist.


©2017 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
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