Oak Bluffs man arrested for assaults, peeping

Following a brief, early Friday morning foot chase, Oak Bluffs police arrested Irton A. DeSouza, 35, of Oak Bluffs. Lt. Tim Williamson said that Mr. DeSouza is responsible for at least 100 “peeping tom” incidents over the past six to eight years, as well as two breaking and entering cases that involved assaults on women.

In one incident this summer, police said Mr. DeSouza entered a house and crawled into bed with the female occupant before running off. In another, he touched a female occupant before fleeing.

Mr. DeSouza was arraigned in Edgartown District Court Friday morning on charges of indecent assault and battery, assault and battery, two charges of breaking and entering, larceny, open and gross lewdness, lewd, wanton, and lascivious behavior, intimidation of a witness, and disorderly conduct. The court entered not guilty pleas for Mr. DeSouza on all nine charges.

“This case has been an extreme concern for Oak Bluffs police and the Island community throughout the summer,” Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Genevieve Henrique told Associate Justice Lance Garth. She asked Judge Garth to impose $25,000 bail. Arguing in favor of the high bail, she said that Mr. DeSouza is a Brazilian national with few ties to the community. In past years, she said, he has left the Island at the end of the summer to stay with acquaintances in Connecticut during the winter.

Mr. DeSouza’s court-appointed attorney, Ryan Searle, argued for $2,500 bail. Ms. Searle said Mr. DeSouza had no money and lived with his brother.

Judge Garth set bail in the amount of $60,000. He explained the court was not certain of the defendant’s real name.

“It appears to the court, the person before the court may or may not have the name he has proffered,” Judge Garth said. “The true identity of the person is in question.”

Immigration questions

As of yesterday, Mr. DeSouza remained in the Dukes County Jail in Edgartown. Bail remained at $60,000. A fingerprint check at the time he was processed into jail revealed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a detainer for Mr. DeSouza.

Detainers are issued for foreign nationals for a variety of reasons. The order requires local authorities to notify ICE and hold the suspect for 48 hours while federal authorities decide whether to take action. All suspects booked through the Dukes County Jail are checked against a federal fingerprint database. However, if ICE is unaware of an individual who entered the United States illegally, that person would not be included in the database and would not trigger a detainer.

According to the detainer issued for Mr. DeSouza, he was ordered held because an “investigation has been initiated to determine whether this person is subject to removal from the United States.”

ICE declined to answer specific questions about when that investigation began, or what was investigated. ICE also declined to elaborate on how someone who is in the country illegally (by his own admission, according to the police report) can go through the state court system and not be flagged for enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.

In response to an e-mail inquiry from The Times, federal immigration authorities issued a short statement Wednesday afternoon. “ICE has placed a detainer on Mr. DeSouza and will take appropriate action at the conclusion of his criminal case,” ICE spokesman Harold Ort said.

Caught on camera

The arrest began with a vigilant homeowner. Ms. Henrique told the court that an Oak Bluffs homeowner set up an elaborate surveillance system, told police about the system, and forwarded pictures of the suspect to police.

The surveillance cameras captured photos of the suspect on two occasions, most recently late Thursday night, September 9. Ms. Henrique said surveillance photos showed Mr. DeSouza walking across the yard, up onto a porch, and peering through windows.

In court, Ms. Henrique said Mr. DeSouza provided police with a confession when confronted with the video evidence. “He looked at one of the surveillance pictures and said ‘yes, that’s me,’” Ms. Henrique told the court. The prosecutor said Mr. DeSouza’s confession included information that he has been looking into windows of unsuspecting females on the Island as often as four nights per week.

In describing the seriousness of the charges, Ms. Henrique referred to an assault and battery that occurred on July 31 on Potato Farm Road. According to the prosecutor, a young woman staying at the home “felt someone crawl into bed with her.” When the young woman screamed, her attacker tried to enter another bedroom, then stole a wallet and ran outside.

Ms. Henrique said Mr. DeSouza did not immediately leave the property, but waited outside. “She saw him indecently touching himself,” Ms. Henrique told the court, referring to the resident of the house.

Ms. Henrique also described an August 10 incident in which Mr. DeSouza entered a home on Bayview Avenue, and tapped a young woman on the leg as she lay in bed.

On August 16, Oak Bluffs police released a composite sketch of a man wanted in connection with a series of “peeping Tom” incidents. Police said at that time the locations of the incidents were mostly random, and the suspect had taken unusual actions to avoid detection, including disabling motion detectors and outdoor lighting.

Closing in

After “Tom” eluded police for many years, the critical break in the case came from the Oak Bluffs homeowner who set up the surveillance system around his home. That surveillance system caught the suspect twice in a short period of time, so police concentrated resources on a small area in the neighborhood of Alpine Avenue.

On the night he was apprehended, there were five police officers, some in camouflage gear, posted near the home where cameras had previously captured Mr. DeSouza’s image.

Minutes after the surveillance cameras recorded him approaching the house for the second time that evening, police encountered Mr. DeSouza about a quarter-mile away. He ran, and one of the officers gave chase. He was able to outrun his pursuer, as he has several times before.

According to police, a canvass of the immediate neighborhood yielded information that Mr. DeSouza lived at a home on Onondaga Avenue. Sgt. Michael Marchand and Det. Nick Curelli approached the home, according to a statement of facts submitted to the court by Det. Curelli.

“From outside the residence, I observed the cellar light on and an individual in the cellar that was fashioned into an apartment,” Mr. Curelli wrote. “I immediately recognized this individual as the individual in the video-recorded surveillance.”

Mr. DeSouza agreed voluntarily to come to the Oak Bluffs police station for questioning. After questioning, he was arrested at about 1:30 am Friday morning.

“Sgt. Marchand and Detective Curelli did an outstanding job with the interview and interrogation, which ultimately led to DeSouza making a lengthy 90-minute confession,” Lt. Williamson said. “Without the help of the community, specifically the citizen who set up the home surveillance system, we would most likely still be chasing a ghost. This guy has been eluding civilians as well as police officers for years. We are very grateful for the assistance provided.” The lieutenant said other citizens also contributed information that led to the arrest and he described a feeling of elation as word spread among local police officers, and as victims of the crimes were notified.

Island driving record

Prior to his arrest Friday, Mr. DeSouza was already familiar with police and the Edgartown District Court.

According to a search of arraignments and dispositions published in The Times district court report, Mr. DeSouza has appeared in Edgartown District Court on four separate occasions since July, 2003, at arraignments in connection with a laundry list of motor vehicle violations.

On July 11, 2003, he was arraigned for unlicensed operation of motor vehicle, a license plate violation, and a motor vehicle lights violation.

On August 1 of that year, he was arraigned for failure to stop or yield, two charges of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for police, a license plate violation, and a motor vehicle lights violation.

On September 15, 2003, the two charges of unlicensed operation were continued without a finding. The rest of the charges were dismissed, or Mr. DeSouza was found not responsible.

On June 20, 2005, Mr. DeSouza was arraigned on a charge of operating under the influence (OUI) of alcohol, negligent operation of motor vehicle, leaving the scene of property damage, a marked lanes violation, and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

On October 3, the OUI charge was continued without a finding for one year. Also continued without a finding were the negligent operation charge and the unlicensed operation charge. His license was suspended for 45 days. Mr. DeSouza was also ordered to attend a driver alcohol education program and pay a total $415 in various fines and fees. The rest of the charges were either dismissed, or he was found not responsible.

On Nov. 24, 2006, Mr. DeSouza was arraigned on a charge of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, motor vehicle lights violation, and failure to wear a seat belt.

On January 11, 2007, the suspended license charge was continued without a finding for six months. He was found responsible for the motor vehicle lights violation, but not responsible for the seat belt charge. He was ordered to pay $206 in court costs fines and fees.

Despite multiple trips through the Island’s court system, Mr. DeSouza was not required to provide any proof of his citizenship, his residency status, or his legal right to remain in this country.

Absent the routine background check performed at the county jail following his previous arrests, and the discovery of the active ICE detainer when he was processed before jailing Friday, Island law enforcement and court personnel could not know whether Mr. DeSouza was in this country legally and would not have been allowed to ask.

According to Massachusetts law, a defendant is not required to disclose his legal status at the time he consents to a plea agreement. Before accepting a plea agreement, the law requires the court to advise the defendant, “If you are not a citizen of the United States, you are hereby advised that the acceptance by this court of your plea of guilty… may have consequences of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization, pursuant to the laws of the United States.”