SHENANDOAH, Pa. - Federal prosecutors charged three police officers with orchestrating a cover-up in the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant by altering evidence or lying to the FBI in a hate crimes case against two popular football players.
The indictment says that one of the officers was dating the mother of one of the athletes, and that anther officer had a son on the team.
The former Shenandoah High School athletes have now been charged with a federal hate crime, accused of beating Luis Ramirez, 25, in a park on a night in July 2008, the Justice Department said yesterday in Washington.
State prosecutors who tried to win ethnic intimidation or murder convictions against the athletes had alleged that the attackers yelled racial epithets at Ramirez and that one gripped a piece of metal to give his punches more power. Defense attorneys called Ramirez the aggressor.
The federal indictment brought praise from those who had long argued that the case was blatantly a hate crime.
"This is what our family, friends, and ongoing supporters have prayed for," said Crystal Dillman, who had two children with Ramirez.
The indictments accuse Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 18, of a hate crime. Donchak is also accused of conspiring with police to cover up the crime and giving false statements to police.
They 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.
The police chief and his second-in-command, Jamie Gennarini, were charged with extortion and civil-rights violations in a separate case.
The officers all pleaded not guilty and will be held until a bail hearing today.
No one answered the phone at the Shenandoah Borough Police Department yesterday, and the door was locked. Piekarsky's lawyer didn't immediately return a call, and the indictment did not list a lawyer for Donchak.
Hayes dated Piekarsky's mother, and Moyer's son played on the football team, according to the indictment, which alleges that the officers took actions on behalf of the teens, especially Piekarsky.
The arrests left the borough with only three active-duty police officers. Borough officials have asked the state police to help out.
Donchak, Piekarsky and a third teen, Colin Walsh, were previously charged in state court with Ramirez's death. Walsh later pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the victim's civil rights and took the stand against Donchak and Piekarsky.
Piekarsky was acquitted in May of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation; Donchak was acquitted of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Both were convicted of simple assault, and are in the Schuylkill County jail.
A fourth teen was found delinquent in juvenile court.