A police chief ordered held without bail on charges he tried to cover up the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant by white teenagers was named in a 2006 lawsuit that claimed police beat to death a Hispanic teenager and made it look like a suicide.
SHENANDOAH, Pa. — A police chief ordered held without bail on charges he tried to cover up the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant by white teenagers was named in a 2006 lawsuit that claimed police beat to death a Hispanic teenager and made it look like a suicide.
Police Chief Matthew Nestor was never charged, but the accusations contained in the suit, in Tuesday’s indictment and in other civil claims depict a police department with pervasive 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 attorney John Karoly, who represents the parents of David Vega, 18, in their federal lawsuit against the borough.
Karoly said he wasn’t suggesting police were abusive to everyone, “but I would say the pattern certainly starts to appear that minorities took the thrust of their abuse.”
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The suit names Nestor and Capt. Jamie Gennarini as defendants, and the borough of Shenandoah. The officers have denied wrongdoing. A civil trial is scheduled for summer.
Nestor, 33, and two other officers 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.
Gennarini and Nestor were indicted separately in a scheme to extort money from illegal gambling operations.
Nestor was ordered held Wednesday until trial at a bail hearing in Wilkes-Barre. Judge Malachy Mannion called Nestor “clearly, unequivocally a serious danger to witnesses in this case.”
At the hearing, a federal prosecutor said Nestor drove a cooperating witness in the extortion investigation to an isolated area and ordered him to strip down before returning him unharmed to his home.
The officers pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate in Wilkes-Barre and the other two were released to home confinement.
A third federal indictment charges teenagers Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak with a hate crime in the July 2008 attack on Ramirez, 25, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
Donchak and Piekarsky were previously charged in state court with Ramirez’s death.
Piekarsky was acquitted in May by an all-white jury of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation; Donchak was acquitted of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.
Both were convicted of simple assault. Piekarsky is scheduled to be released from jail today. Donchak remains locked up.
Early in the Ramirez investigation, Schuylkill County prosecutors determined they had a serious problem with the Shenandoah police, District Attorney James Goodman said Wednesday. No Shenandoah officers were called to testify at the trial.
“We determined the police did not do their job and they were partly involved with this cover-up,” said Goodman, adding he asked the Justice Department to investigate the force.
Police in the blue-collar town of 5,000, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia, face other accusations of wrongdoing.
Gennarini and Capt. Raymond Nestor — the police chief’s father — arrested David Vega at his home Nov. 28, 2004, while responding to a report of a domestic dispute, according to court documents.
“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.
His father, Carlos Vega, said Wednesday he had no doubt what happened to his son. Vega, a retired chef who moved to Shenandoah 19 years ago, said he’s afraid to leave his home for fear of the police.
An autopsy by the county coroner determined Vega’s son committed suicide, but Karoly said the coroner accepted Matthew Nestor’s explanation that Vega’s bruises had come earlier as he resisted arrest.
A second 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.