Language barrier led to confusion in dismissed rape case, woman - FOX 32 News Chicago

Language barrier led to confusion in dismissed rape case, woman says

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Luis Alberto Pantoja, 25. (Chicago Police) Luis Alberto Pantoja, 25. (Chicago Police)
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A Spanish-speaking woman from the Northwest Side said in court last summer she didn't fully understand English and asked for an interpreter while being questioned about her claim that she'd been raped by a man who is now accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in December.

The 24-year-old woman didn't make her request until well after her testimony in the preliminary hearing began — not until she was being cross-examined by a public defender representing Luis Pantoja, in fact.

But there's no indication in a transcript obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times that an interpreter was called to help the woman complete her testimony, and the woman tripped over questions about a key part of the case — whether she wanted to have sex with Pantoja at his home.

When the hearing ended, Cook County Judge Laura M. Sullivan made a finding of no probable cause, effectively dismissing the criminal sexual assault charge Pantoja faced. He was released from Cook County Jail the same day, according to authorities.

The woman spoke, in Spanish, to the Sun-Times Monday and told a reporter she initially made a mistake while being questioned because of a language barrier.

"I wanted an interpreter but they didn't bring one," she said.

Now police say Pantoja, 25, of the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood is responsible for the brutal sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who was found Dec. 17 in a backyard in the 2400 block of North Long. A Cook County judge ordered him on $2.5 million bail in that case.

Pantoja's attorney had no objection to the woman's request for an interpreter during that Sept. 17 hearing, according to the transcript. The woman made it while Pantoja's public defender questioned her about whether she had sex with Pantoja at his home:

Public Defender: "Isn't it true that you wanted to have sex with him and you wanted him to wear a condom?"

Woman: "Yes."

PD: "And he did wear a condom, didn't he?"

Woman: "He didn't."

PD: "He did not?"

Woman: "No."

PD: "Then you wanted to have sex a second time; isn't that right?"

Woman: "No."

PD: "Did you have sex a second time?"

Woman: "No."

PD: "You only had sex one time at the (relative's) house?"

Woman: "No. Never."

PD: "I thought you said that you did have sex?"

Woman: "No, because I didn't, that's why I told my lawyer that sometimes I don't understand because I don't completely speak English. I'm trying to explain the best I can."

PD: "Would it be easier for you if you had an interpreter?"

Woman: "Yes, please."

The public defender told Judge Sullivan "you can get the interpreter." Instead, the judge asked the public defender to rephrase the question, and the hearing carried on.

The transcript does mention the presence of a sign-language interpreter. Pantoja is deaf and goes by the nickname "Silent," according to court records.

Later, when the public defender finished, the woman clarified for the prosecutor that she did not, nor did she want to, have sex with Pantoja in his bedroom. She said she didn't understand the public defender's question.

Police reports indicate her alleged attack occurred about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15. Those records accuse Pantoja of grabbing the 24-year-old woman by her arm, pulling her into an alley and raping her.

She described the alleged assault under direct examination and answered several of the lawyers' questions as if she understood. Other times she seemed to struggle. When Pantoja's lawyer asked if Pantoja ever choked her, the woman said, "What's that mean?"

The woman testified she originally met Pantoja on Aug. 12, when she was walking home in the area of Central and Diversey. She said Pantoja was on a bike and began trying to communicate with her using mouth movements and hand gestures.

On Aug. 15, she said, she saw Pantoja while she was walking from work to her aunt's home. She said she told him where she was going, and he told her he'd meet her later at a bus stop.

She later saw him near the bus stop, she said, and he persuaded her to go to his house. There, she said at least one of Pantoja's relatives was present. She said she went to Pantoja's room, where he used a laptop and tablet to communicate with her and show her pictures of his son.

The woman said Pantoja kept trying to kiss her, and eventually she kissed him, too. She said they hugged and laid down, but when Pantoja tried to take things further she said she got up and said it was getting late.

She said he kept trying to show her his private parts, but she insisted she had to leave.

The woman said Pantoja insisted on taking her home on his bike. She said she agreed, but when he began taking her a strange route, she insisted he take her back.

She said Pantoja took her back to his home and tried to persuade her to go inside to get a sweater. She said she refused and began to walk away. She said Pantoja followed.

Then she said Pantoja began to hold her hand and led her into an alley. That's where she said the rape occurred. When it was over she said she lied and told him she was going home. Instead, she said she went to her aunt's home. She said her aunt took her to a police station, and detectives took her to a hospital.

Under cross-examination, according to the transcript, the woman conceded she went to Pantoja's home willingly and didn't yell for help when he kissed her.

When both sides rested, Sullivan made her finding of no probable cause.

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