SHENANDOAH, Pa. - Federal prosecutors have charged three police officers in a racially tense Pennsylvania coal town with orchestrating a cover-up in the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant by altering evidence or lying to the FBI in a hate-crime case against two popular football players.
The former Shenandoah High School athletes, Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 18, have now been charged with a federal hate crime. They are accused of beating Luis Ramirez in a park on a night in July 2008 as they headed home from a party, the Justice Department said yesterday in Washington.
Piekarsky was acquitted in May 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.
The federal indictment brought praise from those who had argued that the case was blatantly a hate crime and were outraged when the defendants won acquittals on the most serious charges.
"This is what our family, friends, and ongoing supporters have prayed for," said Crystal Dillman, who had two children with Ramirez, in a statement released by the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund. "I truly believe in my heart that Luis can now rest a bit more peacefully knowing that these criminals and accomplices are being charged."
Donchak is also accused of lying and conspiring with police to cover up the crime.
The federal investigators also accuse Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Officer Jason Hayes of conspiracy and falsifying documents "with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation."
Moyer is further accused of witness tampering, destroying evidence and lying to the FBI.
Nestor and his second in command, Jamie Gennarini, were charged with extortion and civil-rights violations in a separate case. They 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.
The officers all pleaded not guilty and were to be held until a bail hearing today.
Among residents of the town, once a largely white but working-class coal town and now a magnet for Hispanic immigrants attracted by cheap housing and plentiful factory and farm jobs, reaction was mixed.
"Why come in and stir it up again? Why stir it up?" said George Dambroski, 61. "The town is stirred-up enough."
But Shawn Grady, 35, agreed with the new charges.
"The feds did what they should have done," he said. "No one deserves to die. At least, not like that. Justice should be done."