LEWISTON — A local teen who police said admitted to throwing a rock believed to have struck a man who later died is seeking to have a judge disallow those statements to be used at trial on a manslaughter charge.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 18, filed a motion earlier this week to suppress his answers to questions posed by local and state police detectives after the June 2018 death of Donald Giusti.

Through his attorney, Allan Lobozzo, Nkurunziza said he didn’t have a legal custodian with him during police interviews on June 19 and 26, 2018, and that police never secured permission from his parents or legal custodian to interview him.

As a juvenile who had recently turned 17, Nkurunziza would have reasonably understood to believe he was being detained by police when they tracked him down to question him, Lobozzo wrote in the motion.

The first time, police picked him up from Lewiston High School in a cruiser and drove him to a police station interrogation room, according to the motion. His mother said police had asked her where they would find her son, but that they never asked her permission to talk to him.

At the station, police began an interrogation without reading Nkurunziza the Miranda warning advising him of his rights, the motion says.

After a break 50 minutes into the interview, police read him his rights.

At one point, the high school sophomore who came to this country less than two years earlier from a Rwandan refugee camp, asked for a translator. No translator was contacted, according to the motion.

“Emmanuel’s request for a translator should have been honored. Failure to do so makes his confession involuntary,” the motion says.

The second time Nkurunziza was questioned by police, on June 26, 2018, he was visiting a sick sibling who was a patient at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. He was told he was “not in trouble” and that police “just have some followup questions.” He was not read the Miranda warning, “nor is there any indication of parental permission having been granted,” according to the motion.

Nkurunziza was taken into a separate room and the door was closed.

“Even at a hospital, behind closed doors, a reasonable juvenile would not think he was free to leave,” Lobozzo wrote in the motion.

Police “had or should have had” knowledge that Nkurunziza had earlier asked for an interpreter when questioned by police. Still, no interpreter was provided.

By assuring him he was “not in trouble,” one of the officers “tells him a blatant lie,” Lobozzo wrote in the motion, a reassurance that is repeated by another officer.

Prosecutors are not expected to respond to the motion until after the conclusion of a bind-over hearing to determine whether Nkurunziza should be tried on the manslaughter charge as a juvenile or as an adult, according to an 8th District Court clerk. Nor is the judge in the case likely to rule on the motion until after that hearing, scheduled for the end of the month.

Prosecutors are seeking to have Nkurunziza tried as an adult. The defense aims to persuade the judge the matter should remain in juvenile court.

Nkurunziza turned 17 about a month before a June 12, 2018, nighttime melee on Knox Street that led to the death of 38-year-old Giusti at a local hospital three days after he was assaulted by several people.

Police said Nkurunziza had admitted to having thrown a rock into a crowd that is believed to have struck Giusti in the head. Nkurunziza reportedly told police he had not seen where his rock landed. A witness, however, told police he had seen the rock when it was thrown and when it landed, striking Giusti.

A medical examiner determined the cause of Giusti’s death to be blunt-force trauma that included two “significant areas” of trauma to Giusti’s head and brain.

In the motion filed by Lobozzo, a narrative of the scene that night depicts Nkurunziza as an “unwitting participant” in the events as he and his cousin made their way toward the scene of the brawl near Kennedy Park from his cousin’s house.

“Emmanuel was hit on the right shoulder with a pipe of some sort,” according to the motion. “His cousin was struck on the head hard enough for him to fall to the ground.”

Lobozzo wrote that the confrontation had its roots in “antagonism” between the Somali community and the local white community. “It had nothing to do with the Congolese community” of which Nkurunziza is a member.

“Suddenly, on the video, the group of blacks seemed to gain the upper hand. The whites are seen on video being pushed to retreat toward the park. As part of an ongoing defensive measure, someone in the group of blacks is seen throwing a rock,” wrote Lobozzo, who added a footnote that read: “Even though the tide of the melee had shifted, the thrower had no alternative to retreat ‘with complete safety,’ and, therefore, had the statutory right to continue defending himself, as well as the other youth who were under attack” by 10 to 15 white men.

On Thursday, a judge ordered Nkurunziza detained at Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn after he allegedly assaulted another inmate at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland earlier this month.

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