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Officer's Language Skills Questioned

June 16, 2000|TINA DIRMANN

An Oxnard police officer who claimed to speak Punjabi had just a rudimentary knowledge of the language when he interviewed an Indian woman charged with attempted murder for allegedly trying to drown her children, according to the woman's public defender.

Officer Rehan Nazir, a Pakistan native, questioned Narinder Virk in her hospital bed just hours after she and her two children were pulled from the Channel Islands Harbor on the morning of Jan. 12. During that interview, authorities said, Virk, 40, told Nazir she was sitting on the dock with her arms around the children when the trio plunged into the water.

But Public Defender Christina Briles contended that a translator she hired to transcribe the recorded interview indicated Nazir was not speaking Punjabi and that many of his words were indecipherable. Nazir appeared to be speaking a combination of English and Urdu, another Indian language.

If Nazir wasn't telling the truth about which language he used with Virk, that could mean "he is untruthful for other things," Briles said. That could damage his credibility as a witness against Virk.

Earlier this week, Briles asked a judge to review Nazir's personnel file to see if the officer has a history of problems with the department. The judge found that the department is investigating Nazir for two separate allegations of lying.

Chief Art Lopez said he will speak to the district attorney's office about hiring another interpreter to listen to Nazir's taped interviews to check Briles' claims. But Lopez defended the officer, saying his department will continue to stand behind Nazir until all investigations are finished.

"We feel frustrated because the investigations are not completed and our officer is being unfairly defamed as a result of an incomplete investigation," Lopez said.

Virk faces a Sept. 19 trial on two counts of attempted murder for allegedly trying to drown her 6-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old son.

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