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Lawsuit implicates former cop in Mich. woman's 2010 death

JoAnn Matouk Romain Personal photo courtesy of Michelle Romain

GROSSE POINTE, Mich. - A lawsuit filed by the family of JoAnn Matouk Romain, who died in 2010 in what police say was a suicide, alleges that the 55-year-old Michigan woman was murdered and that her cousin, a former police officer, was involved.

The amended lawsuit filed Wednesday in Detroit federal court says Romain told her daughter, Michelle Romain, weeks before her death that if something were to happen to her or if she were to go missing, Michelle should tell authorities to look into Timothy Matouk. Matouk is JoAnn's cousin and was a police officer for the City of Harper Woods at the time and now works as an investigator for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

The lawsuit claims that after her mother disappeared, Michelle told police what her mother had said, but that Timothy Matouk was not investigated and that local law enforcement agencies conspired to cover up what happened.

Michelle Romain, 33, told CBS News' Crimesider on Thursday that she was sitting on the couch with her mother several weeks before her January 12, 2010 disappearance when her mother's phone rang. It was Tim, JoAnn's estranged cousin who she hadn't spoken to in at least ten years, said Michelle.

According to Michelle, the two spoke for some time until an argument ensued, her mother turned white and hung up the phone. It was then, Michelle says, that her mother told her if anything were to happen to her Tim Matouk should be investigated.

"I tried to ask her what had happened and she just implied that we needed to take this to higher authorities and basically file a complaint, but before we were able to do so, she was taken," Michelle said.

Michelle went on to say that she believes the conversation between her mother and Tim stemmed from legal and financial issues that were going on with JoAnn's brother, John.

Ari Kresch, a lawyer representing Michelle Romain, would not comment on a possible motive in the case.

JoAnn Romain went missing on January 12, 2010 after attending a 7 p.m. church service at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, according to the lawsuit. The family claims that at 9:25 p.m. that evening, an officer with the Grosse Pointe Woods Police Department knocked on Michelle's door and asked if her mother was missing.

According to the suit, Michelle grew concerned and replied that to her knowledge, her mother was not missing. But the officer told her that JoAnn's car was found in the church parking lot during a routine patrol, which sparked an investigation.

It was odd, Michelle told Crimesider. Her mother had gone to a 7 p.m. mass and now, less than three hours later, there were police officers at her door operating under the assumption that her mother was missing.

Michelle says that although the officer told her to stay put, she drove to the church at approximately 10 p.m. that night. There, she says she saw police attempting to gain entry to her mother's locked vehicle and observed divers in the lake across the street and a helicopter circling above with a spotlight searching the water.

According to the lawsuit, police told Michelle they were searching the lake because they found footprints leading from JoAnn's vehicle down the church driveway, across the street and down into the lake.

"The pavement was dry. There were no footprints that could have originated from the vehicle," Michelle told Crimesider.

JoAnn Romain's body wasn't found until more than two months later on March 20, 2010 by two fishermen in Amherstburg, Ontario, about 30 miles southwest of where she disappeared in Grosse Pointe.

Police ruled the 55-year-old's death a suicide by drowning, which the lawsuit alleges was an assumption largely based upon a tip made by Tim Matouk that JoAnn was depressed and suicidal. Michelle told Crimesider that her mother had no history of depression and would have never killed herself.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Michelle Romain and JoAnn Romain's estate, also describes a written statement allegedly given to the Grosse Pointe Farms Police Department by a man named Paul Hawk on January 19, 2010, a week after JoAnn's disappearance.

According to the suit, Hawk told police that at around 7:30 p.m. on the night JoAnn disappeared, he observed a woman with dark hair and black clothing sitting on the break-wall of Lake Saint Clair, across the street from the church, and two cars parked illegally on the lake side of the road with two men standing near them. Hawk told Crimesider the woman he saw that night fits the description of JoAnn and that one of the men he saw that night fits the description of Tim Matouk.

"As soon as I saw the woman sitting on the edge of the break-wall, I thought it was a huge red flag. I knew something wasn't right," the 48-year-old Hawk told Crimesider. "It was January and there's not a lot of people who go to the lakeside in the middle of the winter in Michigan."

Authorities never followed up on Hawk's tip, according to the suit, and Hawk says police didn't interview him again until two years later, in January 2012, shortly after he contacted the FBI regarding what he had witnessed.

Hawk said the Grosse Pointe Woods detective that contacted him became aggressive with him on the phone and accused him of making false statements.

The lawsuit names multiple defendants, including the cities of Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Farms, both cities' police departments, Timothy Matouk, and multiple police lieutenants and officers. It accuses authorities of spoiling evidence, conspiring to cover up a murder and violating the family's civil rights. It seeks $100 million and alleges that "at least some of the named defendants knew about the murder before it took place and either participated in it or gave the killers the ease of mind that the murder would quickly be ruled a suicide."

Both the Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods police departments declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Harper Woods Police Department, where Tim Matouk worked at the time of JoAnn's death, also declined comment. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, where Tim Matouk currently works as an investigator, issued a statement saying, "Detective Timothy Matouk is an investigator in good standing in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office who is held in very high regard." The statement went on to say that their policy is to not comment on any pending litigation.

Timothy Matouk, when reached for comment by Crimesider on Thursday, said he is on vacation, did not have access to the news and declined to comment before hanging up.

Michelle Romain says she hopes the lawsuit will bring justice.

"I'm hoping for people to come forward and I want to clearly understand why this happened to my mom and why they covered it up," she said. "We are looking for both agencies to break the blue code of silence and tell the truth."

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    Stephanie Slifer covers crime and justice for CBSNews.com.

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