Inmate death: National group calls for new investigation

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LEWISTON – A national group is pressing for a new probe into the death of a local Somali man last year at the Androscoggin County jail.

The Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis expects to formally ask the Maine Attorney General’s Office to launch an independent investigation into the death. The group also hopes the Maine Civil Liberties Union will take up the case.

The state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner earlier this week issued a report stating that Ahmed Hussein Samater, 46, of 149 Bartlett St. died from acute intoxication from drinking an excessive amount of alcohol and ruled his death an accident. He had a blood/alcohol content of .28 percent, more than three times the legal limit for driving.

Maine State Police had conducted an investigation, concluding that Lewiston police acted properly when they arrested Samater on May 28, 2006, took him into custody and transported him to the Androscoggin County Jail shortly before 6:30 p.m. He died around midnight in an observation cell.

The state’s investigation into that case is closed, Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said Friday.

But many members of the Somali community in Lewiston and Portland are not satisfied with the results of that investigation, said Omar Jamal, spokesman for the Minnesota group. His office was flooded with nearly two dozen phone calls from those two Maine cities on Thursday when news broke of the medical examiner’s findings.

“They were very sad,” he said. “They were very shocked.”

Callers suggested that police might be covering up the true cause of Samater’s death.

“Most of them believe this is a wrongful death,” he said. “It deepens the mistrust of people towards police and, in general, the law enforcement community.”

Jamal was in Lewiston in 2003 when he spoke at the Many and One Coalition counter rally in response to a White Supremacist group’s gathering. He plans to return, he said.

Samater’s death, coupled with reports of violence and vandalism targeting Somalis touched off a demonstration outside the police station last summer.

A spokeswoman at the Attorney General’s Office said Friday: “We have no investigative responsibility in that matter.” She said the Maine State Police normally assumes that role.

Shenna Bellows, executive director at Maine Civil Liberties Union, said it’s too soon to say anything about Samater’s case.

“We take every case that comes to us very seriously,” she said. “But we can’t comment on any case until we’ve seen a formal complaint.”

The Minnesota organization offers legal counseling to Somali immigrants in an effort to empower them when they encounter the criminal justice system, Jamal said. They provide legal representation by lawyers who work for free.

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