Witness says police officer issued threat near scene of Pa. immigrant beating

By Michael Rubinkam, AP
Friday, October 8, 2010

Pa. cop accused of issuing threat in beating case

SCRANTON, Pa. — A Pennsylvania police officer accused of hindering an FBI investigation into the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant threatened to put a witness in jail unless he kept quiet about the attack, another witness testified Friday.

The accusation came during the federal trial of two white teenagers charged with a federal hate crime in the July 2008 death of Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old illegal immigrant. Prosecutors say Brandon Piekarsky, now 18, and Derrick Donchak, now 20, were motivated by their dislike of Hispanics when they took part in the assault on Ramirez in the former mining town of Shenandoah.

A separate indictment charges Shenandoah’s former police chief and two officers — including former Patrolman Jason Hayes, who dated Piekarsky’s mother — with sabotaging the investigation into Ramirez’s death by altering evidence and lying to the FBI.

Ramirez’s friends, Victor and Arielle Garcia, witnessed part of the attack. Arielle Garcia told jurors that she saw Ramirez get knocked to the ground, then kicked in the head as he lay unconscious in the street.

Shortly after the fight, Hayes arrived, conferred with Piekarsky and then shook his hand, she said.

Hayes then came over to the Garcias. After Victor Garcia identified Piekarsky as one of Ramirez’s assailants, Hayes told him: “You’d better be quiet. You wanna be quiet, or I can put you in jail tonight,” Arielle Garcia told jurors on Friday.

Under cross examination, Arielle Garcia acknowledged never having made the accusation before, either in statements to authorities or in her testimony at a state trial last year.

Hayes’ attorney, Frank Nocito, who was attending the federal trial, declined to comment to The Associated Press, other than to say that Garcia’s allegation is a new one.

Earlier Friday, one of the teens involved in the July 12, 2008, fight testified that he saw Piekarsky kick Ramirez in the head.

Colin Walsh, who has pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in the assault, said Piekarsky later admitted to the kick.

Piekarsky “told me he kicked the guy so hard his shoe flew off,” Walsh said.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Walsh to get a prison sentence of nine years, but he testified in hopes of winning a reduction.

An all-white jury acquitted Piekarsky and Donchak of serious state charges last year. Piekarsky was acquitted of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation, while Donchak beat aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation charges. Each was convicted of simple assault.

The 2009 verdict angered civil rights groups and Gov. Ed Rendell, who asked for a Justice Department prosecution.

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