Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Federal Indictments Reveal Details of Police Cover-up in Beating Death of Latino Immigrant in Pennsylvania

At about 11:30 on the night of July 12, 2008, six teenagers brutally assaulted a Latino man in a Shenandoah, Pa., park while yelling “Fucking Spic, “Go Back to Mexico” and “Tell your fucking Mexican friends to get the fuck out of Shenandoah.”

As they gathered at one of their homes after the attack, the mother of assailant Brandon Piekarsky arrived to tell them they needed to “get their stories straight” because she had heard from her boyfriend that the victim might die. Before they left the house that night, they agreed not to tell police that Piekarsky had kicked the man or that they had attacked him because of his ethnicity.

As it turned out, the mother’s boyfriend was Jason Hayes, a Shenandoah patrolman who had stopped several of the attackers as they fled. His connection to Piekarsky is one example of the links between the attackers and three Shenandoah police officers who tried to cover up the teenagers’ involvement in the crime, according to federal indictments unsealed yesterday.

The officers face obstruction of justice and other charges in connection with the beating death of Luis Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. In another indictment, Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, who also took part in the attack, are charged with a federal hate crime that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison; Donchak is also charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and related offenses. The federal indictments, greeted warmly by immigrant rights groups, came seven months after an all-white jury found the men guilty of a misdemeanor assault charge but acquitted them of more serious charges, including ethnic intimidation.

According to the indictment charging the three police officers, Piekarsky’s mother was also friends with Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor and had vacationed with him. In addition, Lt. William Moyer — who, along with Patrolman Hayes, stopped the attackers after the assault — had a son who played on Shenandoah’s high school football team with the assailants.

The indictment gives the following account: After the assault, Piekarsky accompanied police officers Hayes and Moyer to the park and told them about the attack. While at the crime scene, Piekarsky used his cell phone — which Hayes, his mother’s boyfriend, had given him and paid for — to call Donchak with the news that he had told police about the beating of Ramirez. He then went to Donchak’s home, where the assailants agreed to lie about what had happened that night — a pact they carried out in the days following the attack.

The next morning, Moyer showed up at the house of an assailant who is not named in the indictment and told him to speak with the other attackers so they could all give the same account to police. During the week after the assault, Moyer contacted the parents of a second unnamed participant with the suggestion that they get rid of the sneakers their son wore on the night of the attack. Shortly before July 24, 2008, he went to that participant’s home and, in an attempt to absolve Piekarsky, told the parents that their son “should take full responsibility for the assault.” In another effort to conceal Piekarsky’s involvement, Moyer and Hayes mischaracterized a witness’s account in an official report to make it appear that the second unnamed participant had a greater role in the attack than he actually did.

Moyer also falsely reported that an eyewitness who called 911 from the park that night did not identify any of the attackers and said there was a man wielding a gun. In fact, the 911 caller had identified Piekarsky, Donchak and other attackers to Moyer and Hayes. After stopping the assailants identified by the 911 caller, Moyer and Hayes released them. All three police officers deliberately wrote false reports in connection with the investigation, the indictment said. In addition, when a Shenandoah official recommended that the police department recuse itself from the investigation because of its ties to the suspects, the police chief refused.

Hayes’ lawyer, Frank Nocito of Kingston, Pa., said he does not comment on pending cases. Lawyers for Donchak, Piekarsky, and the police officers named in indictments did not return requests for comment.

According to a separate indictment, the corruption in the Shenandoah Police Department allegedly went beyond the case involving Ramirez’s death. Chief Nestor and his second-in-command, Capt. Jamie Gennarini, were charged with multiple counts of extortion and civil rights violations. In one incident described in the indictment, Nestor and Gennarini drove to the workplace of a local businessman, strode into his office and proclaimed, “This is the way we are going to do business in Shenandoah!” They then drove the businessman to the police station while Gennarini demanded money from him. After placing him in a holding cell, Nestor threatened to formally arrest him unless another individual brought $2,000 in cash for the two police officers. That person, who is not named in the indictment, told Nestor she needed to go to the bank. Nestor told her he would be getting paperwork ready for the businessman’s arrest while she made the trip. He then called her on her cell phone to ask why it was taking “so long,” the indictment said. After accepting the money, Nestor and Gennarini wrote “vague and misleading entries” in the department’s logbook to cover up the businessman’s detention.

Source: Southern Poverty Law Center

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