SOUTHFIELD — Saying that their mother was murdered and police in Grosse Pointe Farms and Woods covered it up, the children of late Grosse Pointe Woods resident JoAnn Matouk Romain filed a $100 million lawsuit against both departments June 10 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
With siblings Kellie Romain, 31, and Michael Romain, 24, at her side, oldest daughter Michelle Romain, 33, appeared in the Southfield offices of 1-800-LAW-FIRM attorneys Ari Kresch and Solomon Radner to announce the lawsuit during a press conference June 11.
“It’s their effort to finally get justice and peace for their mother,” Radner said.
Kresch went further, accusing police of altering reports, ignoring witnesses and giving the family false information — all of which police have denied in previous interviews. He alleged that the police are operating under the “blue code of silence” and urged someone in law enforcement to break that code of silence.
“There’s mountains of compelling evidence that they knew about it before it was going to happen,” Kresch said of Matouk Romain’s disappearance and death.
Matouk Romain, 55 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen alive the evening of Jan. 12, 2010, at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in the Farms. Her body was discovered 80 miles away on March 20, 2010, by a fisherman in the Livingston Channel of the Detroit River near Amherstburg, Ontario, where it was recovered by the Canadian Coast Guard and Ontario Provincial Police. Although local law enforcement concluded that Matouk Romain likely either was the victim of an accident or suicide — reports say she was seen that bitterly cold night on the shore of Lake St. Clair, directly across from the church — her children insist that their mother wasn’t mentally ill and wouldn’t have taken her own life, and they have been pursuing their own investigation for the last four years.
“JoAnn did not commit suicide,” Radner said. “JoAnn was abducted, she was murdered and her body was dumped.”
Among the claims made by the lawsuit are that an officer — identified only as “John Doe” from the Woods department in the suit — either murdered Matouk Romain himself or knows who did. Michelle and Kellie Romain said they went to police on Jan. 14, 2010, to tell Farms detectives about a phone conversation their mother had in their presence a few weeks before she vanished.
The Romain daughters, according to the lawsuit, said their mother “turned white” during a call with someone identified only as “Suspect One” in the suit. The lawsuit states that Matouk Romain told Michelle Romain that if something were to happen to her, she should tell police to look into Suspect One, an individual who reportedly was a member of the Harper Woods Police Department at that time. Lawyers for the Romain children say police dismissed this allegation and didn’t interview Suspect One.
The suit also charges that police “ignored witness statements” and “falsified their police reports.” Lawyers say police visited Michelle Romain at her mother’s home the night of her mother’s disappearance to ask about her mother after finding Matouk Romain’s Lexus in the St. Paul parking lot during a routine patrol, but while the plaintiffs say that the police told them they ran the license plate, the plate number is said to have belonged to Michelle Romain, not her mother. The Romain children and their attorneys also allege that the plate number wasn’t run through the Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN system, until 30 minutes after police left the house.
Michelle Romain also claimed that she asked police to bring in a K-9 to attempt to track her mother but she was told these dogs “cannot detect scent in the cold — something she later learned was a lie,” according to the lawsuit.
Among the evidence they cite as pointing to murder rather than suicide are Matouk Romain’s boots, which the Romain children and their investigators say were in pristine condition when their mother’s body was recovered — something highly unlikely if she had trekked across a couple of miles of rocky shoreline out into the lake to get into water deep enough to drown herself. However, police have said the boots weren’t recovered in such mint condition.
Another area of dispute is the condition of Matouk Romain’s purse. The Romain children and their team have said the purse was new at the time and was found with a section near the handle “visibly torn, as if it were grasped in a struggle,” and said their mother had bruises on her upper left arm where she carried the purse. Police have said the purse wasn’t new and the damage wasn’t as extensive as the family has alleged.
As to reported police contentions that Matouk Romain was depressed or paranoid at the time of her death, Radner said her doctors and family members deny such claims and say “she was happy … and in no way suicidal.”
Michelle Romain said that her mother believed she was being followed in the weeks leading up to her death, but she said the fact that she disappeared under strange circumstances and ended up dead suggests that her intuition was correct, not that her mother was paranoid.
Police and investigators have also disagreed about physical facts of the case, such as whether or not there was a current that could have carried Matouk Romain’s body that far — police have said there was one, but investigators have said there wasn’t. Footprints, or the lack thereof, have been disputed, as well.
Officials from the Farms and Woods Public Safety Departments have insisted from the beginning that they acted properly and investigated the case thoroughly.
Farms Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen said the case remains open, and they would resume their investigation if they were presented with new evidence. He said the evidence the family and their investigators have brought forward is evidence his officers already have examined.
“We stand by the diligence (of our officers) and the work that was done on that case,” Jensen said. “It’s not closed — we just don’t have anything new to go on.”
Because of the new lawsuit, Woods officials said they weren’t at liberty to comment on the case.
“It’s not our practice to comment on matters of litigation,” City Administrator Al Fincham said. At press time, he said he hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit, nor had he received paperwork related to the lawsuit.
As to the Woods’ work on the case, “We investigated it as a missing person (case),” Fincham said. “That was our involvement.”
Matouk Romain was a Grosse Pointe Woods resident at the time of her disappearance.
“We’ve spent the last four years of our lives having this investigation basically being our whole lives,” Michael Romain said. “We’ve had authorities come to the conclusion this was a suicide. In no way would our mother take her own life. … The facts (of the case) completely go against suicide. … I just want justice.”
As to why someone would have wanted to kill a woman Michael Romain said was “absolutely the most loving mother,” he and his siblings insist that there was “a vendetta” involved, although they declined to elaborate on what that might mean.
“I’d like to leave it at that,” Michael Romain said.
“It’s a personal vendetta,” Michelle Romain said.
The three Romain siblings now live in St. Clair Shores. Michelle Romain said since they started pressuring authorities about their mother’s case, they have felt threatened.
“We’re taking extra precautionary measures to make sure that our safety is kept,” she said.
At press time, no court dates had been set yet in the case, but a spokesperson for the Romain children said it has been assigned to Judge Linda Parker.
Attorneys for Matouk Romain’s family are asking anyone with information about the case to come forward by calling (844) 2-EXPOSE. The Romain family is continuing to maintain a website, www.888INVESTIGATE.org, where people can email anonymous tips or get more information about the case.