Grand Jury Indicts Luis Ramirez's Assailants and Police Officers Implicated in Cover Up

On Tuesday, December 15, 2009, the US Department of Justice revealed that a federal grand jury handed out three indictments related to the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.

The first indictment charges Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky with a federal hate crime for fatally beating Luis Ramirez, a Latino male, while shouting racial epithets at him.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien reports on the development:

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The indictments also address allegations that surfaced during the state trial, where Donchak and Piekarsky were acquitted of the most serious charges.

[I]mmediately following the beating, Donchak, Piekarsky and others, including members of the Shenandoah Police Department, participated in a scheme to obstruct the investigation of the fatal assault. As a result of this alleged obstruction, Donchak is charged in three additional counts for conspiring to obstruct justice and related offenses.

Three Shenandoah police officers, Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lieutenant William Moyer and Officer Jason Hayes, are charged with "conspiring to obstruct justice" during the investigation of Luis's death. Addtionally, Lt. Moyer is charged with witness and evidence tampering, as well as making false statements to the FBI. (Andrea Nill of Think Progress has more on previous allegations against the Shenandoah Borough Police Department, including a "2006 lawsuit which alleged that Borough police beat to death a Latino inmate and hung him from the bars of his cell to make it seem like a suicide.")

If convicted on the hate crime charge, Donchak and Piekarsky could recieve a maximum sentence of life in prison. Each of the obstruction charges Donchak faces carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The police officers also face sentences of up to 20 years for each obstruction charge, and up to 5 years for the conspiracy charges. Moyer faces an additional five years in prison for making false statements to the FBI.

In a DOJ press release, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez said:

"Violence motivated by bigotry and hate has no place in America, and yet it remains all too prevalent in many of our communities... The Civil Rights Division stands ready to bring perpetrators of hate crimes to justice."

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz stated:

"These indictments are an encouraging step toward obtaining a measure of justice for the victims of this heinous crime – Luis Ramirez and his surviving loved ones. The indictments also indicate that the Department of Justice will step in to address and deter local law enforcement misconduct that results in a miscarriage of justice. This is an encouraging return to the historical role of the federal government in the arena of civil rights."

Shortly after learning of Luis's death, MALDEF succesfully called on the FBI and DOJ to investigate the matter after local officials delayed their own investigation and denied that race and ethnicity might have played a role in the beating death. After Luis's assailants were acquitted of the most serious state charges, MALDEF called on DOJ to file federal hate crime charges. Upon hearing of this latest developement, MALDEF attorney Gladys Limón spoke to NBC affiliate WBRE in Pennsylvania:

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Many thanks to the numerous bloggers and news outlets who covered the story and kept it alive. A special thanks to the 50,000+ who signed our petition pressuring the Department of Justice to step in. We hope this chapter of the story will end in justice for Luis's family.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund