Friday, March 1, 2024

Federal Grand Jury Indictment Alleges Hate Crime and Police Cover-Up in the Murder of Mexican Immigrant

The Department of Justice has announced the indictment of five individuals in connection to the murder of Luis Ramirez in a small town in Pennsylvania, including three local police officers.

As reported previously in La Plaza, in July of 2008, Ramirez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, was beaten to death by several young men in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania while walking home one evening.  Witnesses reported that the assailants yelled racial epithets at Ramirez as they attacked him.  The incident grabbed national headlines and divided the community along racial lines.  Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky, 19 and 17 at the time of the attack, were charged in the death of Ramirez, but in June of 2009 an all-white jury in Schuylkill County acquitted the two of aggravated assault and third-degree murder, convicting them instead of the lesser count of misdemeanor simple assault.  The two men were sentenced to 23 months in prison.

Following the verdict, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Department of Justice to pursue civil rights charges in the case.  “The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramirez was targeted, beaten and killed because he was Mexican,” Rendell wrote. “Such lawlessness and violence hurts not only the victim of the attack, but also our towns and communities that are torn apart by such bigotry and intolerance.”

Following an investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice, a federal grand jury returned multiple indictments against Donchak and Piekarsky, as well and Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Police Officer Jason Hayes.  The indictments charge the youths with a federal hate crime and also claim that “immediately following the beating, Donchak, Piekarsky and others, including the officers, participated in a scheme to obstruct the investigation of the fatal assault.”

According to the indictment, the officers in question “wrote false and misleading official reports” that “intentionally omitted information about the true nature of the assault and the investigation.”  The Department of Justice reports that “If convicted, the defendants face 20 years in prison on each of the obstruction charges and an additional five years in prison for conspiring to obstruct justice.”  Donchak and Piekarsky could face life in prison.

“Violence motivated by bigotry and hate has no place in America, and yet it remains all too prevalent in many of our communities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Department of Justice. “The Civil Rights Division stands ready to bring perpetrators of hate crimes to justice.”


  1. Hipolito Ramirez says

    This is tragic.

  2. When Latino peace officers hear of such tragic events, they are reminded of the challenges they often face when they don the uniform that few use to bring terror to the streets they vow to protect.
    “When the odds are stacked against you and there is no turning back, what price would you pay to don the uniform of the law?”

    A quote from my book “POLITICS VS. PREJUDICE IN THE HIGHWAY PATROL” which is now available on Google Books.