OPD files 15th motion in sex abuse of minor case

Defense counsel seeks personnel records of a cop who arrested defendant

The Office of the Public Defender has asked the Superior Court to compel the Office of the Attorney General to give the suspect in a sex abuse case the employment/personnel records of the police sergeant who arrested him.

Assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, counsel for defendant Joseph Seman Epina, said the materials being sought bear on the integrity of the investigation in the case as a whole, which concerns the validity of this case altogether.

In a motion filed Friday, Zona asked the court to subpoena the CNMI Office of Personnel Management to produce certain personnel records of Sgt. Catherine Pangelinan, who is now the evidence custodian of the Department of Public Safety.

In the alternative, Zona asked that Pangelinan’s personnel records be given to the court for review.

The motion is Epina’s 15th filed in court. It will be heard on Nov. 13, 2019, at 10am.

Zona is seeking materials pertaining to Pangelinan such as any evidence concerning complaints of dishonesty, excessive or unnecessary force or violence, aggressive conduct, racial or class prejudice or bias, improper police tactics, false statements in reports, incomplete statements in reports, false claims of probable cause to search or arrest, fabrication of charges and/or evidence, and false testimony.

Zona also wants to know why the sergeant’s assignment was changed from detective in the DPS Criminal Investigation Unit to evidence custodian.

Zona said recent news reports suggest that the DPS evidence locker is plagued by problems, including improper security procedures, that threaten the authenticity of the materials kept there.

Zona said to the extent Pangelinan was transferred to the position of evidence custodian due to concerns about her work as a detective (or even as the evidence custodian), that information would be relevant to her credibility.

Zona said Epina’s expected defense is based, in part, on Pangelinan’s incompetence and misconduct, including her flawed and biased investigation of this case, as well as her lack of training.

Zona said Pangelinan had testified that then-assistant attorney general Teri Tenorio, who was originally assigned to Epina’s case, criticized her job performance.

Zona said Pangelinan testified that she was so angry to hear of Tenorio’s complaints that she (Pangelinan) threw out her notes in the case.

Subsequently, Zona said, Pangelinan was transferred to the evidence locker, where it appears she is now evidence custodian.

The second amended information charged the 45-year-old Epina with sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree and disturbing the peace. He allegedly sexually abused a 12-year-old girl on March 12, 2016.

When former prosecutor Elizabeth Weintraub left OAG in 2017, the case was assigned to Tenorio. Last February, Tenorio also left the OAG.

The case is being handled by Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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