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Neighbors say first-degree kidnapping suspect was quiet and "kept to himself"

BY BETH BRATSOS AND JORDYN REILAND | APRIL 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Neighbors of Peng Tang, an Iowa City man accused of first-degree kidnapping, said the 21-year-old kept largely to himself.

Tang, who lived at 923 E. College St. No. 8, was arrested March 30 for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman while viewing her West Benton Street apartment for a potential sublease, according to court documents.

"I've never talked to him before," said UI sophomore Blake Shaffer, who lives in the same complex as Tang. "He kept to himself mostly."

Three residents of 923 E. College St. No. 5, an apartment just down the hall from Tang's, said they only saw Tang around five times throughout the year.

None of the students said they knew if Tang had any roommates.

"The last couple of days, [Tang's] door has been wide open, and it looks pretty empty in there," said UI sophomore Austin Weisinger, who lives with Shaffer.

According to Iowa City police complaints, Tang's father, Xuefan Tang, 57, and mother, Li Qiao, 49, arrived in Iowa on April 5 — roughly a week after the alleged kidnapping — and began staying in their son's apartment. Six days later, Iowa City police charged Xuefan Tang and Qiao with attempting to bribe Tang's alleged victim, according to complaints.

Weisinger said Tang's parents seemed "Americanized," and he only saw them a few times recently outside Tang's residence following the alleged assault.

"They didn't say anything to me," he said.

Qiao and Xuefan Tang are in custody at the Johnson County Jail, each on a $100,000 bond. Unlike their son, Qiao and Xuefan Tang had not been placed on immigration hold as of Thursday evening.

Jail officials could not speak specifically about why their bond increased from $2,000 Wednesday to the current $100,000 bond but said the bond amount is up to the discretion of the case's judge. Sixth District Judge Ian Thornhill was assigned to the case, according to online court records.

Jennifer Xie — an Iowa City woman who owns local restaurants Jade Sisters and Chili Yummy, as well as Bai Jia Asian Market — said she helps more than 100 foreign residents per semester who are adjusting to life in America. She said the people she assists, mostly Chinese students, often need aid finding housing and transportation or advice on legal problems and translation.

"Sometimes, if they really get in big trouble, I recommend [they get] a lawyer," she said.

The attorney assigned to Tang's case, Marshalltown public defender Ray Reel, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Xie said she has received requests from people she'd helped in the past to work with Tang in his case. She said English is not Tang's first language and said she believes his family came from China to attend his hearings. Tang will enter a plea in the case at the Johnson County Courthouse today.

University of Iowa criminal law Professor Emily Hughes said ensuring clear communication between the client and court officials is one of the most common obstacles when dealing with legal issues surrounding a non-native-English speaker.

"The most common difficulty is making sure that they have someone that is interpreting word-for-word, so that they can understand the process," she said.

Hughes said sometimes there can be up to two interpreters, depending on the case, and ideally the client will have an interpreter the moment they appear in court.

According to the state's rules on court interpreters, when "the court learns the services of an interpreter are reasonably necessary … court staff shall select a competent interpreter."

Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness said when someone is charged and does not speak fluent English, it is important for them to obtain a court interpreter. The interpreter should also have a good understanding of legal language.

During a search conducted at Tang's apartment the day after the reported assault, police found handcuffs, women's underwear, a heart-shaped box with condoms, Viagra pills, and a knife, among other things, according to police reports and court documents.

After the alleged kidnapping, police had the woman message Tang, who agreed to meet her again. Once Tang showed up at the alleged victim's apartment, she identified him as the person who assaulted her and he was taken into custody, according to a police search warrant.

Police found a folding knife, passport and condoms in Tang's backpack, the report said.

An official at the an apartment complex on West Benton Street — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said the assault occurred in one of the her company's buildings, but would not say which one. Police records said the assault took place in the 1000 block of West Benton.

Residents are not supposed to handle subleasing on their own, she said, and subletters are told to fill out an application at the office and to handle the process through apartment-complex officials. Residents are advised not to go through other vendors or second parties when subleasing their apartments because of the potential for dangerous situations, she said.

"If [the alleged victim] would have tried to sublet her apartment through the office like she was supposed to, this might not have happened," she said.

Daily Iowan photographer Ya-Chen Chen contributed to this story.


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