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Was It A Cover Up? Witness Claims He Saw Woman With 'Estranged Cousin' Before Her Death

GROSSE POINTE WOODS (WWJ) - New information has allegedly come to light in the death of a Grosse Pointe Farms woman who died four years ago in what her family alleges was a murder covered up by two local police departments to protect one of their own.

An amended lawsuit filed by attorneys representing the family of JoAnn Matouk-Romain says a witness, Paul Hawk, was never initially interviewed by police who ruled the death a suicide by drowning.

In the $100 million lawsuit, attorneys claim Hawk identified Matouk-Romain's cousin as being with her on the night she died. The cousin -- Tim Matouk -- was a Harper Woods police officer at the time and is now an investigator with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office -- and he might have been the last person to see Matouk-Romain alive, according to the lawsuit. Matouk has not been charged with a crime, and the spokesperson for his office says he's held in "high regard."

Matouk-Romain's daughter, Michelle Romain, told WWJ's Charlie Langton she believes the lack of police investigation into Hawk's testimony supports the family's cover-up theory.

"There were ignored witnesses who had seen suspicious men, suspicious vehicles," Romain said. "There was a connection with the police and the suspects involved in my mother's disappearance. There are a couple suspects (for the family) and yes, they are police officers."

Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods police departments have yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Maria Miller, a spokesperson for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, said "Detective Matouk is an investigator in good standing in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office who is held in very high regard. It is our long standing practice not to comment on any pending litigation, this instance is no different."

On the night Matouk-Romain went missing, Jan. 12, 2010, her car was found in the parking lot of Saint Paul Catholic Church on Lakeshore Drive, just across the street from Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Farms. It was around 9:25 p.m. when police arrived on Romain's doorstep -- about two hours since anyone had last seen Matouk-Romain at the end of church service.

By the time Romain arrived at the church property, around 10 p.m., divers were in the water, searching an area of the lake where the police asserted Matouk-Romain had entered the water. After several hours, the search was called off.

Days later, on Jan. 18, Hawk went to the Grosse Pointe Farms police department, believing he might have seen something suspicious the night Matouk-Romain vanished.

According to the lawsuit, Hawk spent about 40 minutes talking with three officers about what he saw that night, but claims the officers told him to go home, write down his statement and bring it back to the department the next day -- which he did.

In his written statement, Hawk claims he was driving on Lakeshore Drive near St. Paul's Catholic Church when he observed a woman with dark hair and black clothing sitting on the break-wall of Lake Saint Clair, the complaint states. Hawk also said he observed two cars parked illegally on the lake side of the road with two men standing near them.

The lawsuit says that Hawk "immediately became concerned as to whether the woman was in danger" because she appeared to be slightly slumped over.

According to the lawsuit:

As Mr. Hawk slowed down and approached the men, he observed the first of the two vehicles which was a dark blue or black four-door sedan which appeared to be a municipal vehicle.

Thinking it could be a police vehicle there to assist the woman, Mr. Hawk looked at the license plate to see if there was an "X" in the middle and there was not, and he made a written note of the first three characters of the license plate which were the letters "BHP."

One of the men then reached into his inner coat pocket as if he were going to pull something out, then quickly pulled his hand back out and stuck his other hand into his outer coat pocket and he motioned for Mr. Hawk to drive through.

Mr. Hawk believed based on the way that the man was motioning to him, that the man was trying to imply that he had a gun in his coat pocket.

After hearing about Matouk-Romain's disappearance and learning of her description, Hawk believed the woman he saw that night was in fact Matouk-Romain, the lawsuit states. Furthermore, the lawsuit says Hawk "is positive" one of the men he saw with the woman was Matouk, a then-Harper Woods police officer.

According to the lawsuit, two years passed before police followed up with Hawk about his witness statement. In Jan. 2012, shortly after Hawk had spoken with the FBI regarding what he had witnessed, he was contacted by a Grosse Pointe Woods detective, the lawsuit states.

The detective allegedly questioned Hawk about what he had discussed with the FBI, and "became very aggressive when Mr. Hawk confirmed that he could positively identify the two men he saw on the evening of January 12, 2010 if he were to see them again or their pictures," the complaint states. The lawsuit goes on to allege that the detective became "belligerent and threatened to have Hawk charged with some variation of an obstructing an investigation charge."

Romain said Hawk's statement to police wasn't the first time Matouk's name was mentioned as a possible person of interest. Romain said she went to the Grosse Pointe Farms police department on Jan. 14 with her sister and told officers about an incident they allegedly took place several weeks earlier.

The women said they told police they were sitting on a couch at their mom's house when the phone rang -- it was allegedly Matouk. Romain said this was unusual because her mother and Matouk had been estranged and hadn't spoken to each other in at least 10 years.

The lawsuit says Matouk-Romain spoke with Matouk for some time before the talk apparently turned into an argument and she suddenly turned white and hung up the phone. Romain said that was the first time her mom mentioned she might be in danger.

"Before this happened to her, before she had disappeared, she had told us that she thought she was being followed and if anything happened to her, to make sure that we followed through. She had even given us specific names of individuals to look at," Romain said.

And her daughters weren't the only ones Matouk-Romain allegedly warned about Matouk. The lawsuit says the Grosse Pointe Woods police department took a witness statement on Jan. 17 from a retired FBI agent, one of Matouk-Romain's friends, who allegedly told them to look into Matouk as a person of interest.

Romain said even though multiple people brought Matouk's name to the attention of police, investigators did nothing to follow up, the lawsuit claims.

"Some of the suspects that were supposed to be looked in to were not, and that is because there is a connection with the police and the suspects involved with my mother's disappearance," Romain said.

On March 20, 2010, Matouk-Romain's body was discovered by two fishermen along the Detroit River in Amherstburg, Ontario, about 30 miles downstream from where she disappeared.

After the discovery, Romain said two Grosse Pointe Farms police officers "rushed over to Canada" and falsely informed them that her mother was "extremely paranoid, suffered from severe mental health issues" and that "no foul play was suspected." Her death was ruled a suicide.

Romain said the tip that her mother was paranoid, depressed and suicidal was never substantiated by police with any of her medical records or social tendencies. She said the tip was later discovered and confirmed by phone records to have been made by none other than Matouk, according to the lawsuit.

"At the end of the day, you try to rationalize irrational situations, an irrational act, and it's very hard to do so. We've always believed it to come down to either revenge or a vendetta," Romain said, adding that her mother was a devout Catholic who did not believe in suicide.

The case will now go before a federal judge.

MORE: $100M Lawsuit Claims Detroit-Area Police Departments Intentionally Covered Up Murder

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