Three former Pennsylvania police officers who were accused of conspiring to cover up the beating death of a Mexican immigrant two years ago were cleared on Thursday of the most serious charges against them. But the verdict did not absolve them of all wrongdoing.
The officers were accused of altering official statements of witnesses, concealing evidence and helping two high school boys and their families create a story to hide the racial nature of the attack and shift a measure of blame in the beating death. Former Shenandoah police chief Matthew Nestor and two other officers, William Moyer and Jason Hayes, were found not guilty on Thursday of conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation.
However, Moyer, described by his defense attorney as the “Barney Fife of Shenandoah,” was found guilty of lying to the FBI, and Nestor was found guilty of falsifying police reports. Hayes, whose fiancé is the mother of one of the men involved in the death of Luis Ramirez in July of 2008, was acquitted of both charges against him.
The all-white jury of eight women and four men had the case for less than 24 hours before returning a verdict. The officers will be sentenced on April 29.
The verdict comes two and a half years after Ramirez’ death and caps off a saga that put the rundown Pennsylvania coal town of Shenandoah in the limelight for racial tensions between its white residents and Hispanic immigrants.
The fatal fight happened on July 12, 2008, when Derrick Donchak, Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh and Brian Scully were among a group of teenagers who had left a block party where they had been drinking. They came across Luis Ramirez, 25, in a park with a white girl and started calling Ramirez a “fucking spic” and taunting him with threats such as “Go back to Mexico” and “Tell your fucking Mexican friends to get the fuck out of Shenandoah,” according to testimony and the federal indictment. A fight erupted and the teens, some grasping chunks of metal to harden the impact of their punches, ganged up on Ramirez until he was knocked unconscious.
Ramirez died two days later of head injuries at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.
An all-white jury found Donchak, now 20, and Piekarsky, now 19, guilty of a misdemeanor assault charges but acquitted them of more serious hate-crime charges. They were subsequently charged with a federal hate crime for their role in the assault, and were convicted in October. They face life in prison when they are sentenced. A hearing was originally scheduled this month but was delayed until the officers’ trial had concluded.