Suffolk County Improves Relations With Immigrants 3 Years After Hate Crime Death

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When Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant, was stabbed to death in 2008 by a white teenager, anti-Hispanic sentiment on Long Island vaulted into spotlight.

Three years later, on the anniversary of Lucero’s death, officials and immigration advocates said that Suffolk County has made significant strides in addressing the problem. Still, some issues, as a recent letter from the Department of Justice suggested, continue to linger.

Lucero, 37, at the time of his death, was attacked by seven teenagers in Patchogue. Jeffrey Conroy, 20, who inflicted the fatal wound on Lucero, was convicted last year of manslaughter as a hate crime and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He and other teenagers told prosecutors they went out on November 8, 2008, looking for Hispanic men to attack, an activity they referred to as “beaner-hopping.”

In 2009, Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks activities of hate groups, issued a report that found Latino immigrants in Suffolk County were “regularly harassed” and “taunted,” and that statements by politicians and law enforcement officials about immigrants were “fueling the fire.”

The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Suffolk County Police Department’s patterns and practices that same year.

In an interview with WNYC, SCPD Assistant Chief Patrick Cuff said the department had implemented a number of changes since Lucero’s death. They include having Spanish translators in each precinct, teaching Spanish to new recruits and assigning a Spanish speaking investigator to the Internal Affairs Bureau. Police officers and day laborers also meet to talk and play volleyball.

Following its investigation, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the police department in September suggesting non-mandatory improvements in the way they investigate hate crimes and other practices. Cuff said the department was in the process of drafting its response.

DOJ has still has not made the final finding on the claims that the department engages in discriminatory policing, or that it fails to investigate crimes and hate-crime incidents involving Latinos.

Lucero’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming authorities failed to prevent the killing. Last week, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit against Patchogue and Brookhaven. The claims against Suffolk County and SCPD can still move forward.Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the tragic event has brought about important steps forward.

“One of the biggest positive changes that has happened is that the conversation about immigrants’ rights and bias-based crimes has come to the forefront in Suffolk County,” he said. “And I think that was a really important move.”

He added, “It’s good to know Marcelo didn’t die in vain,”