SHENANDOAH, Pa. - A police chief, ordered held without bail yesterday on charges that he tried to cover up the fatal 2008 beating of a Mexican immigrant by white teenagers, was named in a 2006 lawsuit that said police had beaten to death a Hispanic teenager, then made it look like a suicide.
Police Chief Matthew Nestor, 33, was not charged in the teenager's death in November 2004, but the allegations in the lawsuit, in Tuesday's indictment, and in other civil claims depict a police department with hostility to minorities and a penchant for using excessive force.
Police "acted as feudal warlords in this coal town community that people were afraid of," said John Karoly, attorney for the parents of David Vega, 18, in the 2006 federal lawsuit against the borough. "I would not suggest they were not abusive to everyone and anyone, but I would say the pattern certainly starts to appear that minorities took the thrust of their abuse."
The suit names Nestor, Capt. Jamie Gennarini, and the Borough of Shenandoah as defendants. The officers have denied wrongdoing. A civil trial is scheduled for the summer.
Nestor, Lt. William Moyer, and Officer Jason Hayes were charged Tuesday with orchestrating a cover-up as the FBI investigated the fatal attack on Luis Ramirez by a group of high school football players. Hayes dated the mother of one of the accused players, and Moyer's son played on the football team, according to the indictment.
Gennarini and Nestor were indicted separately in a scheme to extort money from illegal gambling operations.
Yesterday, Nestor was ordered held until trial at a bail hearing in Wilkes-Barre. Judge Malachy Mannion called him "clearly, unequivocally a serious danger to witnesses in this case."
At the hearing, a federal prosecutor alleged that Nestor had driven a cooperating witness in the extortion investigation to an isolated area and ordered him to strip before returning him unharmed to his home.
The officers pleaded not guilty, and the others were released to home confinement. The arrests leave the borough of 5,000 with three active-duty police officers.
A third federal indictment charges Brandon Piekarsky, 18, and Derrick Donchak, 19, with a hate crime in connection with the July 2008 attack on Ramirez, 25, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
Early in the Ramirez investigation, Schuylkill County prosecutors determined that they had a serious problem with the Shenandoah police, District Attorney James Goodman said yesterday, adding that he asked the Justice Department to investigate the force.
In the civil lawsuit, court documents allege that Gennarini and Capt. Raymond Nestor - the chief's father - arrested David Vega at his home shortly before 8:55 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2004, while responding to a report of a domestic dispute.
"While in police custody . . . Vega was beaten to death and then hung from the bars of a holding cell to make it appear as if he had committed suicide," the lawsuit said. Vega, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was pronounced dead at 10:50 p.m.
Karoly said the coroner accepted Chief Nestor's explanation that Vega's bruises had come as he resisted arrest. An autopsy arranged by the family confirmed Vega "suffered extensive, massive injuries consistent with a profound beating. . . . The defendant did not die of hanging," the suit said.
Chief Nestor's attorney insists otherwise, writing in court papers: "The only credible independent evidence to date establishes that David Vega committed suicide."