Federal investigators have reached a deal with Suffolk County police to settle a probe into allegations that the department turned a blind eye to hate crimes before one left an immigrant dead.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday a tentative agreement that calls for Suffolk police to implement policies that ensures its officers don’t discriminate against members of the Hispanic community on eastern Long Island.
“All residents of Suffolk County deserve full and unbiased police protection, regardless of national origin, race, or citizenship status,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “When people feel they cannot turn to the police for protection, they have lost one of our most basic rights—the right to feel safe in one’s community. Law enforcement also suffers when it does not hear from everyone under its umbrella of protection.”
Local federal prosecutors opened the joint investigation with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division shortly after the killing of 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero by a group of seven teenagers in Patchogue in November 2008.
Jeffrey Conroy is serving 25 years in prison after a jury convicted him of manslaughter as a hate crime for fatally stabbing Lucero. Six of Conroy’s friends were also sentenced to prison for lesser charges.
Advocates called for the probe citing claims that Suffolk police discouraged Hispanic victims from filing complaints and cooperating with the police and failed to investigate hate-crime incidents as well as crimes involving Latinos.
The agreed upon policies include enhanced training and investigation of allegations of hate crimes, improved access to police services for people with limited English proficiency and strengthening the department’s outreach efforts in Hispanic communities.
The agreement requires approval of the Suffolk County Legislature. DOJ will monitor the department’s compliance with the agreement, which terminates when Suffolk police have complied by its requirements for at least one year.
Police have made strides in improving relations since the Lucero slaying by making translations more widely available to non-English speakers, retooling the Hate Crimes Unit and hiring more minority officers, among other initiatives.
“This agreement represents how far Suffolk County has come since the initial investigation into the tragic death of Marcelo Lucero,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement. “This agreement memorializes and builds upon the progress we have made throughout my administration to improve relations with ethnically diverse communities, ensure language access for all Suffolk County residents and prioritize community led policing.”
Javier Valdes, co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, said: “We’re excited to continue working with the county executive to continue making Suffolk a more welcoming county for all.”