WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted two Pennsylvania teenagers and four Shenandoah police officers in a hate crimes investigation into a fatal attack on a Hispanic man.
Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky were charged with a hate crime for the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez while shouting racial epithets at him in July 2008.
Separate indictments accuse Shenandoah police chief, Matthew Nestor, and three officers under his command with a variety of charges, including witness tampering and lying to the FBI. The indictments were announced Tuesday at the Justice Department.
Nestor, Lt. William Moyer, and Officer Jason Hayes were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice during the investigation into the Ramirez beating. Moyer was charged with witness and evidence tampering, and lying to the FBI.
The police chief and his second-in-command, James Gennarini, were charged with extortion and civil rights violations in a separate case. The two are accused of extorting cash payoffs from illegal gambling operations, and demanding a $2,000 payment from a local businessman in 2007 to release him from their custody.
Four youths — including Donchak and Piekarsky — were previously charged in state court in connection with Ramirez’s death. A jury cleared two other teens of all serious charges, and a fourth pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Piekarsky was acquitted by an all-white jury of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation; Donchak was acquitted of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Both were convicted of simple assault, which carry possible one- or two-year prison sentences.
The May verdicts were decried by Hispanic advocates who say Ramirez’s death is part of a rising tide of hate crimes against Latinos.
The incident began when a half-dozen high school football players were headed home from a block party in the coal town of Shenandoah, which has attracted Hispanic immigrants with jobs in factories and farm fields. They came across Ramirez, 25, and his 15-year-old girlfriend in a park.
An argument broke out and the football players hurled ethnic slurs, although lawyers disputed who said exactly what. Defense attorneys called Ramirez the aggressor.
Soon Ramirez and Brandon Piekarsky were trading punches. Derrick Donchak jumped in — his lawyers said to break up the fight — and wound up on top of Ramirez. Prosecutors said he pummeled Ramirez while gripping a small piece of metal to give his punches more power; defense attorneys denied he had a weapon.
The fight wound down but the argument continued. Ramirez charged the group. He was knocked out by a punch to the face. Prosecutors said he was killed by Piekarsky’s kick to the head; defense lawyers said another teen delivered the fatal blow.
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