Pennsylvania Cops Accused Of Hate Crime Cover-Up

Derrick Donchak arrives at the courthouse for his sentencing in June. i i

Derrick Donchak, one of two white football players in jail for attacking Luis Ramirez last year, arrives at the courthouse for his sentencing in June. He was acquitted of the most serious charges. Jacqueline Dormer/Republican-Herald via AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jacqueline Dormer/Republican-Herald via AP
Derrick Donchak arrives at the courthouse for his sentencing in June.

Derrick Donchak, one of two white football players in jail for attacking Luis Ramirez last year, arrives at the courthouse for his sentencing in June. He was acquitted of the most serious charges.

Jacqueline Dormer/Republican-Herald via AP

The federal government has charged three top police officers in Shenandoah, Pa., with covering up evidence in the fatal beating last year of a Mexican immigrant.

Two white football players are in jail now for the attack, although the most serious charges against them were thrown out by a jury.

Federal prosecutors say that's because police officers in the insular town knew the boys and altered evidence in the case. One police officer investigating the case was dating the mom of one of the accused. Another cop had a son on the same football team as the accused.

Prosecutors say the Shenandoah police intimidated witnesses, coached the kids to lie and helped dispose of evidence.

Police Chief Matthew Nestor was charged with additional counts of extortion. His lawyer, Patrick Rogan, left court saying they would fight all of the charges.

"Yes, there are allegations — we believe they'll be unfounded," Rogan says. "And I think, in the end, Matt Nestor will be fully exonerated."

Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor i i

Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor and two other police officers have been charged with covering up evidence in the fatal beating last year of a Mexican immigrant. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP
Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor

Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor and two other police officers have been charged with covering up evidence in the fatal beating last year of a Mexican immigrant.

AP

Mayor Resigns, Claiming Harassment

But some in the town say they could see all of this coming. Thomas O'Neill, who was mayor when the killing occurred, says he tried to take the police off the case, but the father of the chief was a local politician.

"The chief's father was on council, and he was a former policeman himself. No matter what I tried to do, they tried to stop me," O'Neill says.

O'Neill resigned as mayor and moved away from Shenandoah late last year. He claims he was being harassed.

"My tires were slashed, back window was shot out with pellets. On New Year's Eve, my front window, there was an explosive attached to the window and that was blown out," he says.

O'Neill has no proof that it was related to his battle with the police, but the incidents stopped when the prosecutors started investigating the case.

The former mayor says he doesn't think the police were racist. They were doing what they always do: protecting the longtime residents of the town at the expense of "outsiders," he says.

Another Case Against The Police

Local resident Mickey Holland says he understands it — although he says the cops made a mistake.

"You are born and raised with people — look out for your own," he says.

Crystal Dillman, the fiancee of Luis Ramirez, is moved to tears outside the courthouse. i i

Crystal Dillman, the fiancee of Luis Ramirez, who was beaten to death, is moved to tears as members of Latina, a Chicago-based organization working to defend Latino immigrant rights, show support outside the courthouse in Pottsville, Pa., last year. Matt Rourke/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Matt Rourke/AP
Crystal Dillman, the fiancee of Luis Ramirez, is moved to tears outside the courthouse.

Crystal Dillman, the fiancee of Luis Ramirez, who was beaten to death, is moved to tears as members of Latina, a Chicago-based organization working to defend Latino immigrant rights, show support outside the courthouse in Pottsville, Pa., last year.

Matt Rourke/AP

But one Hispanic resident, Carlos Vega, says after living in Shenandoah for 19 years, he still was treated as an outsider.

"Dirty looks, not making any friends, having a lot of trouble in school, my boys," he says.

Five years ago, one of Vega's teenage sons was arrested. About an hour later, he was found hanging in a cell. Vega is suing the police department, including two of the officers arrested this week, claiming that they beat the teenager and made it look like a suicide. No one believed his claims, Vega says, until this week.

"People stopped me in the middle of the block that I don't even know and say, 'Thank you, thank you. Somebody took action on these cops,' " Vega says.

Vega's lawsuit will go to court next summer. The federal charges against the police will get a hearing in the spring. And a small town has a long way to go before its reputation gets any better.

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