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Shenandoah Police Protected White Perpetrators

El Diario/La Prensa, Editorial, Staff Posted: Dec 17, 2009

Pennsylvania police officers, including the police chief of Shenandoah, Pa., abandoned their duty to uphold the law and instead aided and abetted the teenagers who brutally attacked Luis Ramirez. We welcome the federal indictments of these officers and those responsible for beating a man to death for little other reason than because he was Latino.

Corrupt police officers helped defendants charged with the hateful murder of Ramrez. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) says they deliberately undermined an investigation and fair process. This outrageous misconduct resonates with a shameful past we thought this country had left behind: Mississippi-is-burning justice, in which local officers were complicit in the lynchings of blacks.

In 2008, Ramirez was beaten in Shenandoah by a gang of white teenagers who left him foaming at the mouth. The medical examiner ruled that his death was a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head. A witness said she heard the attackers spewing ethnic slurs, like f-ing spic. Yet, the only attackers who have been tried thus far, Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky, were acquitted by an all-white jury of all serious charges.

The federal charges are stomach-turning. The DOJ lays out the relationships between Shenandoah police officers and the defendants families. The police chief was friends with Piekarskys mother. A patrolman, Jason Hayes, was dating her.

This could be seen as coincidental. But the chief, Matthew Nestor, ignored advice for the department to recuse itself from the investigation. A lieutenant, William Moyers, is charged with lying to the FBI and with advising the parents of one of the attackers to get rid of the sneakers he wore during the assault on Ramirez.

The dizzying list of charges includes that the police failed to record certain statements by Piekarsky. Nestor, Hayes and Moyers are all charged with conspiring to falsify official police reports, with the intent of impeding and obstructing investigations into Ramirezs murder.

Ramirezs attackers gave a false account of the beating, according to the DOJ. Both Piekarsky and Donchak face federal hate crime charges.

The anti-immigrant hostility that led to Ramirezs death was bad enough. But that Ramirezs family could not rely on law enforcement adds insult to mortal injury. The officers accused, it appears, chose white perpetrators over brown victims and tribal ties over the law.

For the civil rights organization Latino Justice PRLDEF, the indictments show that the DOJ is serious about prosecuting corruption and hate crimes. The indictment of local police is rare, said Cesar Perales, head of the organization. I dont think I have heard anything like this since the Civil Rights movement, when you had local police protecting the Ku Klux Klan.

We applaud civil rights and immigrant advocacy organizations that have kept this case at the forefront. We urge the DOJ to continue its work and deliver the justice that Ramirez was denied in Shenandoah.

Related Articles:

Southern Justice in Pennsylvania

How Much Is a Latino Life Worth?

Forbidden Love in Shenandoah, PA: Behind Beating Deaths of Immigrants

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