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Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez is beaten to death in what appears to be a racially-motivated murder by a group of white teenagers in a Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, city park. Ramirez, a 25-year-old father of two children, has searched for work in Pennsylvania’s coal region since coming to America in 2002. Witness reports say that the group of “six or seven” teenagers, which includes a number of players on the Shenandoah Valley High School football team, shout racial slurs, including “stupid Mexican,” while they beat and stomp Ramirez; however, local law enforcement authorities later say race played no part in the murder. Witnesses say that the teenagers instigate the conflict by shouting at Ramirez; he briefly engages them in a fight and then walks away, but, responding to further shouts and imprecations, rushes the teenagers again. Arielle Garcia, a friend of Ramirez’s, says that she and her husband Victor Garcia attempt to break up the fight, “but kids were trying to fight my husband.” She says that the teenagers beat and kick Ramirez unconscious, and continue stomping and kicking him while the Garcias are attempting to protect him where he lies on the ground. She says that one teenager delivers a particularly forceful kick to the head, causing Ramirez to “start… shaking and foaming out of the mouth.” One of the youths who beats Ramirez later tells one of Ramirez’s Hispanic friends to tell area Hispanics to get out of Shenandoah, “or you’re going to be laying next to him.” Ramirez’s fiancee Crystal Dillman, a local resident, says Ramirez was often called derogatory names such as “dirty Mexican,” and advised to return to Mexico. “People in this town are very racist toward Hispanic people,” Dillman says. “They think right away if you’re Mexican, you’re illegal, and you’re no good.” Police chief Matthew Nestor acknowledges that the area has seen a spike in racially-motivated rhetoric and even violence in the last decade, since an influx of Hispanics swelled the area’s population. “Things are definitely not the way they used to be even 10 years ago,” Nestor says. “Things have changed here radically. Some people could adapt to the changes and some just have a difficult time doing it.… Yeah, there is tension at times. You can’t deny that.” Local reporters are denied access to the police incident log, even though it is a publically accessible document; borough manager Joseph Palubinsky says the reporters have “done enough damage already,” and refuses them access. A local newspaper writes after the murder, “[T]his tragic incident is not so much about who is responsible for America’s failed immigration policy as it is about the right of human beings to—live.” (Begnet 7/24/2008; Democracy Now! 7/24/2008) Ramirez dies in a hospital two days later. Four teenagers are charged for causing his death; all four plead not guilty. Brandon Piekarsky (who delivers the fatal kick to Ramirez’s head) and Colin Walsh face homicide charges. Derrick Donchak and a juvenile, Brian Scully, face lesser charges. Dillman says: “I think they might get off, because Luis was an illegal Mexican and these are ‘all-American boys’ on the football team who get good grades, or whatever they’re saying about them. They’ll find some way to let them go.” Gladys Limon of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund calls the Ramirez murder “a case of enough is enough.… [T]his is happening all over the country, not just to illegal immigrants, but legal, and anyone who is perceived to be Latino.… I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos.” Mayor Thomas O’Neill says: “I’ve heard things like, ‘We don’t want to send our kids back to school because we’re afraid people don’t like Mexicans.’ That’s shocking to me. That is not the Shenandoah I know.” O’Neill acknowledges that since Ramirez’s death, he has learned of a number of racial incidents in Shenandoah that he says had never been brought to his attention. (Hamill 8/5/2008; Rubinkam 5/4/2009) Garcia tells a radio reporter of the harassment she has suffered from white Shenandoah residents: “You know, like I was pregnant with my son, and they told me: ‘What’s that in your belly? Another person I’m going to have to pay for? Another Mexican on welfare?’ Like stuff like that. It’s disgusting.” (Democracy Now! 7/24/2008) None of the four will be convicted of murdering Ramirez; instead, they will either plead guilty to, or be convicted of, far lesser charges (see May 2, 2009 and After).
Five people, including three police officers, face federal charges in the murder of illegal immigrant Luis Ramirez (see July 12, 2008 and After). The four teenagers who beat Ramirez to death were acquitted of all but minor charges by an all-white jury (see May 2, 2009 and After). Two indictments charge the five with federal hate crimes, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy, in what authorities say was a racially motivated attack. The indictments are against two of the defendants in the murder trial, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, and three police officers: Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lieutenant William Moyer, and Officer Jason Hayes. Donchak and Piekarsky face a maximum penalty of life in prison plus additional time. Donchak is accused of conspiring with Nestor, Moyer, and Hayes to orchestrate a cover-up of the crime. The three officers face obstruction of justice charges, and Moyer faces charges of witness and evidence tampering, and of lying to the FBI. According to the indictments, Nestor, Moyer, and Hayes intentionally failed to “memorialize or record” statements made by Piekarsky about the incident, and “wrote false and misleading official reports” that “intentionally omitted information about the true nature of the assault and the investigation.” The officers face up to 20 years in prison on each of the obstruction counts. Moyer faces additional jail time if convicted of lying to the FBI. At the time of the murder, Hayes was dating Piekarsky’s mother, and Moyer’s son was a high school student who played football with the defendants. One of the charges involves false reports that an eyewitness, Arielle Garcia, reported that it was Brian Scully (see May 18, 2009), and not Piekarsky, who delivered the fatal kick to Ramirez’s head. Subsequent investigation determined that Piekarsky delivered the killing blow. (CNN 12/15/2009; Philadelphia Weekly 12/15/2009; Bortner 1/28/2011) Piekarsky and Donchak will be convicted of violating Ramirez’s civil rights. Nestor and Moyer will be convicted of lesser charges, and Hayes will be acquitted entirely (see January 27, 2011).
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