3 Ex-Officers on Trial in Obstruction Case
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
New York Times | January 13, 2011
The Shenandoah Six - “Clearly, unequivocally a serious danger to witnesses in this case,” according to Judge Malachy Mannion: (Top Row (left to Right): Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor; Captain Jamie Gennarini; and Lt. William Moyer. Bottom Row (left to Right): Police Officer Jason Hayes; Derrick Donchak; and Brandon Piekarsky.)
Three former Pennsylvania police officers went on trial Thursday on charges of obstructing justice in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in 2008, a prosecution that Hispanics have come to view as a national test case for treatment of Latinos.
The federal case against the former officers, Matthew Nestor, Jason Hayes and William Moyer, began with the killing of Luís Ramírez, 25, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was beaten and kicked to death in July 2008 by a group of young white men in the central Pennsylvania town of Shenandoah.
The case became a cause célèbre for Latinos who argued that the two main defendants, Brandon Piekarsky, a member of a high school football team, and his friend Derrick Donchak, got off with light sentences in a state trial in 2009. They were acquitted of the most serious charges and convicted of simple assault, a misdemeanor. After mounting criticism from state officials, federal prosecutors pressed civil rights charges against the two men, and in October, they were convicted of a hate crime.
The men, who are 19 and 20, face a maximum of life in prison when they are sentenced on Jan. 24. In federal court on Thursday in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., prosecutors argued that the police officers, who are charged with conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice, misrepresented facts during their investigation because they had personal connections to the families of the accused. Mr. Nestor, the chief of police at the time, had vacationed with Mr. Piekarsky’s mother, according to the indictment.
Mr. Hayes, a patrolman, was dating her, and the son of Mr. Moyer, a lieutenant, played on the same football team as those accused in the beating. All have since left the police department. Joseph Nahas, a lawyer for Mr. Nestor, strongly disputed the charges, according to The Republican Herald newspaper, and said that his client had called the district attorney for Schuylkill County within three hours of the beating.
“Everything the government just told you about my client is absolute nonsense,” Mr. Nahas said.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which circulated a petition in 2009 calling for the Justice Department to bring federal charges in the case, welcomed the trial. “This trial sends a strong message that hate crimes and those who attempt to cover them up, including law enforcement officers, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Gladys Limón, a staff lawyer for the fund.
Included in the indictment were accusations that Mr. Hayes, an investigating officer, had called Mr. Piekarsky’s mother and told her to tell the young men to “get their stories straight,” because Mr. Ramírez’s condition was deteriorating. He died in the hospital shortly after the beating. The indictment also said that Mr. Moyer contacted the parents of one of the accused and told them to have their son throw away his sneakers, and that a Shenandoah official told the officers to recuse themselves from the case, but they refused.
Prosecutors said Mr. Moyer and Mr. Hayes “deliberately mischaracterized” an eyewitness account of what happened in an official police report in order to “exculpate Brandon Piekarsky.”