When the verdict came in last May in Shenandoah, Penn., immigrant rights groups around the country were outraged.
When the verdict came in last May in Shenandoah, Penn., immigrant rights groups around the country were outraged. There had seemed to be abundant evidence that the two white teenagers on trial had murdered a Latino man while yelling “Fuckin’ spic” and “Go back to Mexico,” but the jury acquitted the pair of all the most serious charges, including murder and ethnic intimidation.
Many felt that the case, decided by an all-white jury that seemed highly sympathetic to the young men on trial, was a case of jury nullification — an instance, like those seen repeatedly during the civil rights movement in the Deep South, where jurors simply ignored the evidence and refused to convict. The Shenandoah teens were convicted only of misdemeanor assault.
As it turns out, there were far more apparent similarities to the civil rights cases of the 1950s and 1960s than anyone had imagined.
In December, a federal grand jury indicted three Shenandoah police officers, including the chief, and charged them with orchestrating a complicated cover-up and obstructing justice to protect the boys, one of whom was the son of a woman who one of the officers was dating. The grand jury also indicted the two acquitted teens for a federal hate crime that carries a potential life sentence. Similar kinds of alleged police criminal complicity were common in the South of the 1960s.
After the May verdict, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to pursue civil rights charges against the teens and it was known that a probe was under way. But almost no one expected the far more shocking allegations of extensive and criminal police misconduct in the case.
According to the December indictment, the mother of Brandon Piekarsky was told hours after the assault by her boyfriend, officer Jason Hayes, that the victim might die. The woman allegedly told the teens that they needed “to get their stories straight” and to make no mention of attacking the victim, Luis Ramirez, because of his ethnicity. The other officers — Chief Matthew Nestor and Lt. William Moyer — allegedly joined in the conspiracy and, like Hayes, falsified police reports.
At press time, all the officers had resigned from the police department and were confined to home by court order. Also confined to their homes pending an as yet unscheduled trial were Piekarsky, 18, and Derrick Donchak, 19.
There were developments in several other unrelated cases involving anti-Latino hate crime violence, which increased by 40% between 2003 and 2007 but dipped slightly in 2008, according to FBI statistics. They include:
In Orange County, Calif., three racist skinheads pleaded guilty in December to the unprovoked beating and stabbing of a Latino man in Huntington Beach. The three received prison sentences ranging from five to almost 12 years in prison. The man accused of the actual stabbing, Bret MacDonald Hicks, also has a 2005 hate crime conviction. In the months before the stabbing, Hicks had railed against blacks, Mexicans, and Jews on a program he hosted on a white-power Internet radio station, making statements like, “I think it is time to actually go out and kill,” according to a report in the OC Weekly.
A Munger, Mich., man was scheduled to be tried early this year on charges that include ethnic intimidation as a result of his allegedly running down a Latino man with his car in July while shouting “white power.”
In San Bernardino County, Calif., Christopher “Danny” Fulmer was convicted in September of manslaughter as a hate crime and sentenced to 21 years in prison for the fatal shooting of a Hispanic man. Fulmer was a member of a racist skinhead gang who sported several white supremacist tattoos.