DOJ to Suffolk County: Treat Latinos Equally

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 14, 2011

CONTACT: JOHN GARCIA, 212-739-7513,

The Suffolk County Police Department should step up its response to hate crimes, treat Latinos equally, and reform its procedures according to recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a 28-page letter sent to County Executive Steve Levy, DOJ representatives detailed the deficiencies in the manner that Suffolk County operates its Police Department, and, specifically, the deficiencies that DOJ believes resulted in the mistreatment of Latinos. These deficiencies include harsh criticism of the Department’s hate crimes unit, including the observation that the hate crimes unit “has long misunderstood how to report hate crimes.”

"Today the DOJ vindicated what LJ PRLDEF has been saying about the SCPD,” LatinoJustice PRLDEF President and General Counsel Juan Cartagena said. “That there are two classes of residents in the County one Latino, one non-Latino. And that it's illegal to make these distinctions and ignore the public safety needs of its Latino residents."

Also, crucial to the report was its conclusion that:

The tendency to brush off attacks as 'just kids being kids' fails to recognize the severity of criminal conduct in which minors may engage, as seen from the murder of Marcelo Lucero, whose attackers were high school-aged youths.

“We think this captures the attitude that so many SCPD officers on the beat had towards Latinos,” said LatinoJustice PRLDEF Senior Attorney Foster Maer. “This was an attitude that the top levels of the SCPD tolerated, if not encouraged. We appreciate the DOJ’s thorough investigation, and look forward to working together in the future on this matter.”

LatinoJustice PRLDEF requested that the DOJ look into the actions of police one week after the murder of Marcelo Lucero on November 8, 2008. After meeting with us, and later with other community based groups, DOJ then opened up an investigation the following year. Marcelo Lucero was attacked and killed in Patchogue by a group of men yelling racial epithets. After being contacted by the community and receiving many reports of similar attacks against Latinos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF submitted an 11-page memo to the Justice Department outlining what it described as a systematic failure by police in Suffolk County to properly investigate and prosecute hate crimes against Latinos.

Our memo charged that “an epidemic of hate crimes against Latinos had erupted in Suffolk County." Soon after, DOJ, along with the FBI and U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District opened a joint inquiry into the Suffolk County Police department’s handling of hate crimes.

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