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By Brian Fraga
Standard-Times staff writer
October 03, 2008 6:00 AM

NEW BEDFORD - The phone rings at 2 a.m.: There has been a shooting in New Bedford.
Assistant District Attorney Robert DiGiantomaso is on his way.
The 44-year-old often responds to the scene of a shooting. He can help look for shell casings, but is mainly there to answer detectives' legal questions, such as whether they have enough probable cause to apply for an arrest warrant.
"I'm not an investigator. I don't go out to try to figure out what happened. I go out to see if the police have any questions and concerns."
His duties outside the courtroom are part of a new policy the Bristol County District Attorney's Office recently instituted in conjunction with area police chiefs.
In addition to Mr. DiGiantomaso, who is assigned crime scenes in New Bedford, prosecutors also respond to shootings in Taunton and Fall River.
Prosecutors and state police detectives have long teamed with municipal police during homicide investigations.
District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter said prosecutors assist police at crime scenes for the same reasons they move to hold without bail people charged with gun crimes.
"It's about making people as scared of gun crimes as they are about drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car," said Mr. Sutter, who promised to crack down on firearms when he ran for district attorney two years ago.
"I want to treat shootings, as much as I can, like homicides," he said.
"That's why we're utilizing a full-court press to solve them."
The strategy is designed to strengthen a shooting case when it is still in the investigatory phase.
Theoretically, a prosecutor who is present at a crime scene and familiar with its particulars will have a better handle when the case proceeds through the legal system.
"Does it put us in a better position when we get to court? I think it does," said Mr. DiGiantomaso, a former defense attorney the district attorney's office who was hired last year with Shannon Grant money.
"This gives us the confidence knowing what the scene was, who the players are and what the background is. In court, we know what the police report is going to say before even reading it."
Since April, Mr. DiGiantomaso has responded to five shootings in the city.
Though declining to discuss specifics, he said he has looked for bullet fragments under a refrigerator and discussed witness statements with detectives.
"I'm not shy to say, 'Why don't we talk to that person?'" he said. "We can offer our own observations and throw in our own ideas."
Police spokesman Lt. Jeffrey P. Silva spoke highly of the arrangement.
"The assignment of ADA DiGiantomaso exemplifies the tremendous strides that can be made when the police and the district attorney's office work together toward a common goal," he said.
Mr. DiGiantomaso said he usually arrives at the crime scene after police have secured it.
He admitted he was a bit nervous the first time he entered a house after a shooting, which gave him a new appreciation for police work.
"It is nerve-wracking to some extent to know what these officers go through day in and day out. I don't know if I could do it. It's fraught with terror in certain instances."
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