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Refugee who had charges dismissed took class on U.S. legal system

By MARK HAYWARD and PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 10. 2017 11:34PM

AUGUSTIN BAHATI 

MANCHESTER — Augustin Bahati, the Congolese refugee who had domestic violence charges against him dismissed for reasons of cultural incompetency, participated in a class that taught him about the legal system and domestic-abuse laws, a refugee resettlement group said Monday.

Newly arrived refugees are enrolled in cultural orientation classes held in their own language, said Jeffrey Thielman, president and chief executive of the International Institute of New England.

“They have to go through a cultural orientation program. They have to pass an assessment, they have to show competency,” Thielman said.

In March, a judge dismissed six misdemeanor domestic-related charges against Bahati, 33, after the Manchester prosecutor agreed with his defense attorney that he showed “cultural incompetence” regarding the American judicial system, according to previous news accounts.

The office of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald has said New Hampshire law contains no provision for cultural incompetence and faulted the prosecutor for not challenging the designation.

The case is one of several highlighted by MacDonald two weeks ago in a scathing critique that led to the abrupt resignation of City Solicitor Tom Clark. The City Solicitor’s Office handles prosecution of most misdemeanor crimes in the city.

On Monday, newly named interim City Solicitor Emily Rice Gray said she will handle any review of the Bahati case. Gray said she will make case-by-case determinations about the Bahati case and others.

“Just because something is challenging doesn’t mean that we won’t push forward if things possibly can be pushed forward,” Gray said.

Thielman said he can only disclose that his organization resettled Bahati and his spouse in 2015. He could not discuss his employment status or his English proficiency.

Theilman said the orientation classes touch on public and personal safety, American culture, citizenship, hygiene and other topics.

Ascentria Care Alliance, which settles refugees in the Concord and Laconia areas, also provides a class on cultural orientation, which includes an understanding of laws, said Ascentria spokesman Susan Swain.

Thielman cautioned against assumptions that refugees are more prone to domestic violence, and said his organization does not track such statistics.

He stressed that the issue seems to be the work of the prosecutor. “There’s a separate issue to review, is whether the prosecutor is prosecuting cases as she should be.”

If a refugee is a victim of domestic violence, the International Institute will work with other agencies to obtain services, including a new living situation, Thielman said.

Police Chief Nick Willard, who took questions Monday afternoon with Gray, stressed that a victim was associated with Bahati’s alleged actions.

“I don’t know all the legalese behind it, but it was a concern to the (Attorney General’s) Office. If it was of concern to them, then it’s of concern to me,” Willard said.

mhayward@unionleader.com; pfeely@unionleader.com


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